Troubled overseas property investment scheme
Harlequin has put its headquarters up for sale.
The warehouse and offices in the Honywood Business Park in Basildon have been listed for sale on property website Rightmove for £525,000.
Harlequin owner David Ames would also consider leasing back the first floor offices at a rent of £25,000 per year, according to the advert. A spokesperson for the company said:
“Harlequin owns its Basildon offices and occupies the first floor of Unit 11, with all other space let to third parties. “Harlequin is attempting to sell in order to discharge its liability and remove its responsibilities as a lessor.”
The move raises further questions over the financial situation of the company, which has received £400m from investors that they are currently unable to access. Unregulated investment scheme Harlequin worked by taking deposits from mainly UK pension investors to build off-plan properties in the Caribbean, which could then be sold at a profit on completion or used to generate a rental income from holidaymakers. But out of a scheduled 6,000 properties, about 300 have been built.
Harlequin has told investors that since its sales arm entered liquidation last October, it cannot return their deposits, despite clauses in some investors’ contracts saying that, if the properties had not been built by now-lapsed deadlines, they would be entitled to a full refund.
Ames has blamed the problems at Harlequin on the “global recession, contractor fraud, defamatory campaigns and new FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) regulations”. However, the Serious Fraud Office and Essex Police have had an open and ongoing investigation into dealings at Harlequin since 2013.
The then regulator the Financial Services Authority issued a warning to advisers about the company in January 2013, and a further warning to investors in June of that year. About 85% of those who invested in Harlequin did so on the recommendation of a financial adviser. The majority of the estimate 6,000 investors put money into the scheme via their self-invested personal pension (SIPP).
The Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) has said it will compensate SIPP claimants for losses in the value of their investments in Harlequin, in addition to compensating for lost pension growth and charges taken from their SIPPs. These losses are likely to be substantial, leaving financial advisers on the hook for potentially hundreds of millions of pounds, after the FSCS wrote down the value of Harlequin investments to nil.
Pension advisers have already been told they face a 73% increase in the amount they pay to the FSCS as the service prepares for a “significant” rise in claims linked to SIPP advice. There is also the threat of regulatory action against advisers. Two ex-directors of failed adviser TailorMade Independent (TMI) – the main distributor of Harlequin – have been banned and fined by the regulator for not assessing the suitability of clients’ investments made through SIPPs.
Lloyd Pope and Peter Legerton have been banned from senior positions in financial services. Pope has been fined £93,800, while Legerton would have been fined £84,000 but for financial hardship. The FCA found both men fundamentally failed to act in the best interests of clients, but Legerton benefitted financially from conflicts of interest between TailorMade and an unregulated firm that introduced new business to it.
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