A financial adviser banned and fined £350,000 by the FCA for promoting unregulated collective investment schemes misled consumers through a complex company structure designed to circumvent regulatory rules.
Craig Cameron, a director of London-based advice firm Burlington Associates, helped set up and promote three high risk Ucis investing in new property developments in Croatia, Bulgaria and Montenegro.
Over 800 consumers invested around £30m in the three UCIS, which subsequently failed.
Burlington was a member of a network which prohibited its appointed representatives from promoting Ucis.
Cameron therefore arranged for a separate advisory firm, Leslie & Nuding (trading as Burlington Funds and now known as Leslie & Swallow) to take responsibility for checking investors’ eligibility and sending out promotional materials.
In reality, a firm named AdminCo – which was under Cameron’s control and shared an office building with Burlington – carried out the vast majority of these activities. Leslie & Nuding played little or no part in the sales process.
The FCA says this meant that in practice an unauthorised firm handed out prospectuses and consumers were misled into believing they were dealing with Burlington when in fact they were not.
Another company, MarketingCo, helped Cameron set up and promote the Ucis. MarketingCo believed Burlington’s activities were regulated by the FCA and gave consumers the impression the firm’s involvement would give them extra protection.
Burlington received a fee of at least 3 per cent of any amount invested in the three Ucis, while Leslie & Nuding received 0.5 per cent of any amount invested.
The Ucis were promoted to thousands of retail consumers without adequate assessments of their eligibility.
They were promoted in person at sales seminars and workshops, as well as through 15,000 unsolicited email mailshots and 2,900 prospectuses.
Cameron attended MarketingCo’s seminars, at which he was presented to the audience as representing Burlington, and sometimes AdminCo.
The FCA says the content of the seminars and the language used at them was designed to “induce” consumers to invest in the Ucis.
Consumers were told at some seminars that the Ucis were promoted in a way that was within FCA guidelines.
Cameron also agreed a process with Leslie & Nuding at the outset to deal with investors who could not certify themselves as eligible to invest in Ucis by being sophisticated investors or high net worth individuals.
In these cases, Burlington provided a risk questionnaire, on Leslie & Nuding letterhead, for Leslie & Nuding to use as the basis for an advised sale.
The regulator says that under Cameron’s direction, these questionnaires were “routinely misused”.
When investors said they felt they could not be certified as sophisticated or high net worth, Burlington simply used the questionnaire themselves to assess whether the Ucis was suitable. Hundreds of questionnaires were used in this way.
It is understood investors are unlikely to be able to recover their money as the investments were not approved by Burlington’s network and were therefore treated as unauthorised business.
The sales were made between April and December 2008. Burlington was a member of the network between May 2003 and January 2006, when it became directly authorised by the FCA.
The FCA says the failings did not become apparent until much later.