TTF Blog: 04 January 2021

Where are the receipts from ex-lawyers' 'ponzi scheme'?

New Scotland Yard; pic by Roger Fenton

by Alex Varley-Winter, TTF’s Head of Media Relations & Investigative Reporting

As 2020 neared its close, police for Interpol arrested ferrari-driving millionaire Anthony Armstrong-Emery in the United Arab Emirates. His purported Brazilian social housing scheme, EcoHouse cost most investors more than £20,000 each in  savings. Investors first started raising concerns around 2013.

While Interpol was homing in on the alleged mastermind of the scheme, UK agency Action Fraud was reportedly telling British scam victims that their complaints did not even reach the threshold for investigation. In EcoHouse’s case this would be remarkably lax. It was promoted by British solicitors (one of them since struck-off) and has caused losses around the world.

Ponzi complainants’ years of suspense

On January 3rd, one of the EcoHouse victims told TTF that he has just surveyed the experiences of more than 60 others regarding the Met Police’s handling of their cases. They have heard so little positive news that they feel as if ‘the case investigation & prosecution has inexplicably disappeared, like a ship in the Bermuda Triangle’.

Tantalising evidence on where victims’ money went has dangled just out of reach since 2017, apparently in the hands of the Met Police, with the EcoHouse creditors now beyond desperate for disclosure.

The evidence that exists sounds compelling. Investigating Met officer Richard Kirk wrote in 2017 that he had obtained ‘invaluable evidence’ from PwC including ‘bank ledgers that give me more information than I have received previously. These show the destination of some of the funds, especially to overseas accounts.’ 

Kirk also obtained “copies of all the receipts that Ecohouse held in respect of their expenditure. These will enable me to give a much more detailed report into where and when your funds were dissipated.”

Yet years passed, these reports for investors have never yet been disclosed by the Met, and Richard Kirk now works for Humberside Police.

For complainants, this means that an air of mystery is now hanging around this case. News of Armstrong-Emery’s arrest came to light for many of them only when the article was translated online in December. They have been left grasping for straws of hope when it comes to tracing the money they invested.

I can only imagine the emotional toll it would take, having to wait indefinitely for a paper-trail that you know exists. Hopefully 2021 will see victims being treated better. As the global pandemic has decimated financial security for so many people, scam victims are keener than ever to trace their squandered funds.

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Updated for clarity -9th Jan:

Since writing this, an EcoHouse investor got in touch asking me to clarify an important point. Anthony Tabor’s story which I linked to above, is a case of alleged double and separate victimisation.

I’ll expand on this, to avoid confusion:

AIS Marine

At an EcoHouse creditors meeting, Tabor was reportedly approached about a different scheme run by different people, called AIS Marine, that he then also put part of his life savings into. AIS Marine later collapsed. Regarding this second scheme Tabor told the Mirror: “According to Action Fraud and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, a £2.4m loss to 25 investors is below their threshold … it seems far more effort would be put into a report of a stolen car.”

The Mirror chose to headline on this issue of thresholds. It struck me as a burning issue. I contacted City of London Police a few days ago and asked them what the thresholds are for investigation? They said they’ll come back to me. Penman’s article contains an oblique response that alludes to resources: “With more than 32,000 reports of fraud made to Action Fraud every month, police forces unfortunately can’t investigate them all. ” And: “It is crucial reports which have viable lines of enquiry and are of significant threat to the public are actioned.”

What is ‘viable’ and what constitutes a threat to the public? How do they decide between these cases? It was a significant allegation in terms of the losses involved,  the Mirror reported that Tabor lost his life savings to the scheme.

Justice delayed-

EcoHouse, a separate scheme to AIS Marine, was Tabor’s prior investment. It incurred 850 investors losses of £21M and was referred to the Met police several years ago. On Action Fraud’s basis a referral like this might amount to action. However for victims, the apparent delays on the Met’s EcoHouse probe remain ridiculous, with investors held in suspense for years. A Met Police spokesman told the Mirror’s Andrew Penman, that inquiries by the Economic Crime team were ‘still ­continuing’.

NEW: Podcast on Pension Scams probe as Inquiry resumes

MPs’ inquiry into pension scams, which TTF campaigned for, resumes in Parliament this Wednesday morning.
Wondering what I sound like?

I produced a succinct podcast for TTF in December on the blistering evidence being given to MPs by victims Susan Flood, Dennis Waite and others. I’d love  some feedback on this! Do you enjoy listening? I am considering running more audio content on TTF Blog on future inquiry sessions, and other TTF stories, if members like the offering. Let us know. You can contact me on alex.v.winter@transparencytaskforce.org

The inquiry resumes this week with the Pensions Regulator, FCA and the City of London Police’s lead on Economic Crime giving evidence MPs, you can watch the whole session on Parliament TV.

Press Timeline of relevant articles:

04 Jan 2021Bank of England fails to publish officials’ expenses by Alex Ralph for the Times

03 Jan 2021Five years on and still no answers over HBOS affair by Jill Treanor and Liam Kelly for Sunday Times

31 Dec 2020So, when WILL we learn truth about bank chiefs? Another year and still no sign of key HBOS probe by Lucy White for the Mail

24 Dec 2020ASIC drops investigation into Westpac, by Investor Daily in Australia

21 Dec 2020Financial Conduct Authority fines just ten wrongdoers this year by Patrick Hosking in the Times

19 Dec 2020 Andrew Bailey could return to face MPs after damning report on London Capital & Finance scandal by Ben Martin & Patrick Hosking for the Times

18 Dec 2020Google urged to vet online financial promotions better by Huw Jones for Reuters

18 Dec 2020Financial Conduct Authority insiders warned of London Capital & Finance-style minibonds in 2013 but nothing was done by Jim Armitage for the Evening Standard

18 Dec 2020Blue Gate escapes $13.5 million Connaught fund fine from FCA by Huw Jones for Reuters

18 Dec 2020Executives at Financial Conduct Authority to lose bonuses over London Capital & Finance scandal by Ben Martin for the Times – Bosses at the Financial Conduct Authority will lose £205,000 in bonuses after the highly critical report on the regulator’s handling of the London Capital & Finance scandal

17 Dec 2020The fallout from the financial regulator’s shocking failure on LC&F is not over yet by Nils Pratley for the Guardian

17 Dec 2020FCA did not ‘effectively supervise’ collapsed mini-bond issuer LCF, says report by Matthew Vincent for the Financial Times  “Members of the Transparency Task Force, a lobby group pushing for regulatory reform, pointed out that in his own representations to the Gloster review, Mr Bailey included a demand “to delete references to ‘responsibility’ resting with specific identified/identifiable individuals”.

17 Dec 2020Former Financial Conduct Authority boss Bailey apologises over handling of mini-bond scandal by Ben Martin for the Times

16 Dec 2020EU cannot be ‘captured’ by City of London, warns financial services chief by Sam Fleming and Jim Brunsden for the Financial Times

16 Dec 2020Treasurer plots ASIC shakeout by John Kehoe for Financial Review

15 Dec 2020How to remake Australia’s lame corporate watchdog by Pamela Hanrahan for Financial Review

03 Dec 2020HMRC ‘treat the victims of pension scams like criminals’: Taxman has benefited from the ‘proceeds of crime’ MPs are told by Tom Kelly for Daily Mail

25 Nov 2020FSCS seeks extra £92m in interim levy by Daniela Esnerova for MoneyMarketing

25 Nov 2020  – Trump Administration Targets Banks Divesting From Fossil Fuels In New Anti-Climate Rule by Sharon Kelly for DeSmogBlog

23 Nov 2020Bank of England policymaker warns of ‘pandemic hangovers’, as private sector shrinks – as it happened by Graeme Wearden for the Guardian

16 Nov 2020 – Bank of England ‘failing’ on climate change reform by Philip Aldrick for the Times

16 Nov 2020 – Fed moves closer to joining global peers in climate-change fight by Ann Saphir for Reuters

14 Nov 2020Fraudsters will exploit Covid vaccine to con vulnerable, warns National Crime Agency by Charles Hymas for Telegraph

09 Nov 2020Ombudsman inundated with complaints about loans by Katherine Griffiths for the Times

09 Nov 2020Spike in personal pension cases at ombudsman by Rachel Mortimer for FT Adviser

09 Nov 2020 – Regulator: Climate risk ‘looms even larger’ than pandemic by Avery Ellfeldt for ClimateWire (U.S.)

08 Nov 2020How financial services watchdog has reacted to UK consumer worries in Covid by Hilary Osborne for Guardian

08 Nov 2020Five predictions for banking regulation in a Biden presidency by Jon Hill for Law 360

05 Nov 2020Martin Lewis warns of ‘epidemic of scams’ after ICU nurse loses £8,000 by Scott Edwards for Wales Online

05 Nov 2020FCA bans adviser trio jailed for sex offences by Rachel Mortimer for FT Adviser

03 Nov 2020 – ‘We haven’t received a penny’: Business interruption insurance row intensifies as owners fear payout delays, by Elizabeth Anderson for iNews

03 Nov 2020Aviva’s shares fiasco highlights weakness of the city watchdog by Patrick Hosking for the Times

02 Nov 2020Banks have done little to help the country through the pandemic, so why is the government rewarding them? by Simon Youel for the Independent

29 Oct 2020 – Calls to sack Malta financial regulator CEO by Cristian Angeloni for International Adviser

27 Oct 2020U.S. group urges Biden to use financial regulation to control climate change by Valerie Volcovici for Reuters

27 Oct 2020 ‘Impact startups’ continue to raise funding during the pandemic despite difficulties faced by the wider tech startup sector by Sebastian Klovig Skelton for Computer Weekly

26 Oct 2020 – Why there must be thorough probe of claims made by Bank Signature Forgery Campaign – Greg Wright  for the Yorkshire Post

26 Oct 2020 –  Critics demand action over ‘flawed’ British Banking Resolution Service by James Hurley for the Times

24 Oct 2020Banks look to debt collectors to recover bounce back loans by Nicholas Megaw, Stephen Morris and Daniel Thomas for the FT

23 Oct 2020Bank Signature Forgery (film) by Nicholas Wilson for Corruption UK

22 Oct 2020 – UK fraud agency suffers string of senior departures by Kate Beioley for the FT

22 Oct 2020 HSBC froze £1.5bn of customers’ cash in ‘dormant accounts’ – report by Kalyeena Makortoff & Juliette Garside for the Guardian

22 Oct 2020Work harder to find fraud, watchdog tells auditors by James Hurley for the Times

17 Oct 2020 – MPs pursue claims bank signatures were faked on court papers by Rupert Jones for the Guardian

16 Oct 2020 We need universal digital ad transparency now by Laura Edelson, Erika Franklin Fowler and Jason Chuang for TechCrunch

15 Oct 2020 – Rising COVID-19 Rates Send NatWest Misselling Trial To Video by Bonnie Eslinger for Law 360

15 Oct 2020 – MPs Push Agencies to Act on Forged Signature Claims by Law360

13 Oct 2020 –  Mark Carney says banks should link executive pay to Paris climate goals by Kalyeena Makortoff for the Guardian

12 Oct 2020 ‘It is time to reboot the competition regime for the modern, digital age’ by David Wighton, The Times

12 Oct 2020 Gina Miller blasts FCA complaints scheme changes ‘unfair, immoral and illegal’ by Cristian Angeloni for Portfolio Adviser

12 Oct 2020MPs call for input on Pension Schemes Bill by James Phillips for Professional Pensions

10 Oct 2020 Give pension trustees power to fight scammers, say MPs by Kenza Bryan for the Times

08 Oct 2020  – Freedom to transfer pensions should be stripped where scams are suspected, industry experts urge by Jessica Beard for the Telegraph

08 Oct 2020 – Planned pensions shake-up passes first Commons hurdle by Law 360

08 Oct 2020 – WPC chairman says transfer rules ‘must be changed’ by Amy Austin for FT Adviser

07 Oct 2020 – Tech giants share blame for pension scams, MPs told by Law 360

06 Oct 2020 – FCA opens 85 cases over pension scam concerns by Amy Austin for FT Adviser

03 Oct 2020 – Record number of savers fall victim to investment fraud as scam adverts stay on Google by Andrew Ellson for The Times

02 Oct 2020A New Theory of Soil by Alex Varley-Winter for SustainAct

 
 
 
28 Sep 2020 – PM urged to show leadership in fight against scams by Amy Austin for FT Adviser
 
28 Sep 2020The 100 Whistleblowers who changed Wall Street by Stephen M. Kohn and Mary Jane Wilmoth for National Law Review
 
28 Sep 2020TTF calls for govt leadership on pension scams following meeting with PM by Sophie Smith for Pensions Age
 
 
26 Sep 2020 – £60m revamp for Action Fraud hotline that failed victims by Martin Beckford for The Sunday Times
 
25 Sep 2020 – FCA labels Google’s scam advert efforts ‘deeply frustrating’ by Rachel Mortimer for FT Adviser
 
23 Sep 2020 – Bank Forgery Campaign (video) by Andy Verity for BBC
 
 
20 Sep 2020 – Explore the FinCEN Files Data and Suspicious activity reports, explained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ); Fergus Shiel and Ben Hallman
 
21 Sep 2020 Flood of complaints expected over Covid-19 UK business loans, by Kalyeena Makortoff for the Guardian
 
 
 
16 Sep 2020 – Regulators Accused of Ignoring Scam Warnings by Jack Gray for Pensions Age
 
16 Sep 2020Tougher clampdown on pension scams is needed, MPs told by Vicky Shaw for Belfast Telegraph
 
 
11 Sep 2020 – ‘Delay changes to Watchdog Complaints Scheme’ by James Hurley for The Times
 
 
03 Sep 2020Regulators have not yet got to grips with how to close down crooks, warns TTF  by Hope William-Smith for Professional Pensions
 

24 Aug 2020Financial Conduct Authority rushes to minimise compensation for its failings by James Hurley for The Times

04 Aug 2020Have your say: Will the WPC’s inquiry into the impact of pension freedoms be too overshadowed by Covid-19 impacts? by Professional Pensions

03 Aug 2020 – ‘“I’m 39, have lost my job and am in debt – can I unlock my £18k pension?” … DON’T do it!’‘ by Steve Webb for This is Money

01 Aug 2020‘I lost £2.3m after I was conned into transferring my pension’ by Jessica Beard for the Telegraph

31 Jul 2020 ‘Common sense’ prevails as pension freedom withdrawals fall 17% — But drop is expected to be ‘a short-term blip’ by Robbie Lawther for International Adviser

31 Jul 2020HMRC figures show plunging pension freedom withdrawals by Hope William-Smith for Professional Adviser

28 Jul 2020MPs launch inquiry into pension scams  by Tom Kelly for Daily MailUK Pension Scams Under Scrutiny After 2015 Relaxation in Rules by Reuters & MPs launch wide-ranging pension scams probe by Justin Cash for MoneyMarketing

24 Jul 2020 – US business groups seek steps to stamp out online fraud by Leonie Barrie for Just Style

22 Jul 2020Pension scams increase amid lockdown by Sophie Smith for Pensions Age & Missed Opportunity to Use Victims in Scam Work by Amy Austin for FT Adviser

21 Jul 2020  Londongrad Calling: Is Europe’s Laundromat the ‘New Normal’? by Mark Conrad

20 Jul 2020 Campaigners Aim to Create Pension Scam Database by Michael Klimes & Government eyes unauthorised firms by Justin Cash for MoneyMarketing

17 Jul 2020 – Year ‘dominated’ by FCA shortcomings as 205 complaints made,  by Rachel Mortimer for FT Adviser

29 Jun 2020 – MPs Pushed to Launch Pension Scam Inquiry by Amy Austin for FT Adviser & Lawmakers Urged To Open Inquiry Into Pension Scams by Martin Croucher for Law 360

14 May 2020 – Under Rising Pressure on Climate, JP Morgan Rejects Shareholders’ Calls to Disclose Carbon Footprint by Alex Varley-WInter for DeSmog

11 May 2020 – FCA urged to build public trust in independent reviews by Rachel Mortimer for FT Adviser

30 Apr 2020 – FCA was warned three years ago about mini-bond firm Blackmore Bond, which collapsed with £45m of savers’ money by Ben Chapman for the Independent

15 Apr 2020 – Met police lose two thirds of finance officers as fraud soars by Ben Ellery for the Times

25 Mar 2020 – Care Home Wants NatWest Docs in Misselling Fight by Law360

20 Mar 2020 – Connaught review delayed as Covid-19 concerns loom by Rachel Mortimer in FT Adviser

07 Jan 2020It’s time to keep your pensions promise, Boris! The PM pledged to help these victims of a huge scam FOUR years ago – and they’re still waiting by Tom Kelly for the Daily Mail.

29 Dec 2019‘Lambs to the slaughter – tens of thousands of savers have lost up to £10billion in rogue pensions schemes sanctioned by the government… and now the taxman is threatening VICTIMS with fines’, and ‘Making millions from other people’s misery’: A Government adviser, call centre chief and pension scheme director are among those who stand accused of involvement in pension schemes that exploited loophole in the law by Tom Kelly for the Daily Mail

15 Aug 2019Victims hit by Connaught’s collapse blast City watchdog for ‘whitewashing’ independent review by Lucy White for Daily Mail

05 Aug 2019Plunder in paradise: The ‘adviser’ behind a Costa scam that has cost expat pensioners £25MILLION – and led one to attempt suicide by Laura Shannon for Mail on Sunday

05 Jul 2019 Government-owned bank ‘forging signatures’ in repossession cases by Andy Verity for BBC

18 Jun 2019“I came home to find my house had been stolen!” by Angela Ellis-Jones for the Daily Mail

20 Jun 2019 – FCA orders review of its handling of Connaught collapse by Rachel Mortimer for FT Adviser

13 Jun 2019 – Investigation into disgraced RBS small business unit branded a ‘whitewash’ by MPs by Ben Chapman for the Independent

29 Mar 2019MPs call for inquiry into alleged forgery of signatures by Andy Verity for BBC

15 Feb 2017 – RBS accused of fraud & forgery by customers and ex-employee by Andrew Hosken for The World Tonight BBC Radio 4

22 Dec 2016Solicitors suspended for roles in collapsed Brazilian investment scheme by Nick Hilborne for Legal Futures

23 Sep 2016Which? makes scams super-complaint by Adam French for Which?

08 Aug 2016The Latest Bank Interest Rate Scandal Signals A Crisis Of Australian Democracy by Professor Carl Rhodes for New Matilda