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SFO launches Harlequin probe

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The Serious Fraud Office has begun an investigation into unregulated overseas property firm Harlequin property.

The SFO and Essex Police are looking into complaints in relation to the Harlequin group, which marketed and built luxury off-plan property developments in the Caribbean and elsewhere.

It has asked investors to complete an online questionnaire if they have invested in the following resorts: Buccament Bay in St Vincent & the Grenadines; Merricks in Barbados; Marquis Estate in St Lucia; The Hideaway in the Dominican Republic; Las Canas in the Dominican Republic; Two Rivers in the Dominican Republic and Garapua Beach Resort in Brazil.

The SFO says investors may be contacted for a full witness statement for potential use in a criminal prosecution.

It says: “We do not generally comment on investigations but may from time to time issue updates in general terms.”

The SFO investigation follows the FSA writing to Sipp operators last week requesting information on members who have invested in Harlequin.

The regulator issued an alert in January saying it had seen an increasing number of Sipps with underlying investments in overseas property purchased through Harlequin.


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There are 5 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Harlequin is a dead duck in investment terms. What worries me is the exposure SIPP providers and the IFA’s who did the transfers will have.

    Those IFA’s will lose every single claim from investors. They won’t be able to pay. The advice to transfer is regulated. So the FSCS will be in line.

    10% commission minimum (20% for the master agents) . Millions from investors.

    IFA’s pick up the bill.

    Outraged !

  2. man on the moon 6th March 2013 at 12:25 pm

    makes me wonder why ‘advisors’ thought they could only ‘advise’ on the merits of moving a pension fund but not the investments allied for volume case scenarios

    when you are dealing with 30 such cases a month you might get a little concerned how many direct their own investments.

    my old Firm might now even recognise the good I did them by turning 4 such offers to transfer benefits for property agent companies down.

    right up there with ‘carbon credit’ funds and marketing companies, sipp providers being allied etc…………

  3. The ever worrying sound of a stable door being bolted. This scheme was being reported 6 bloody years ago!

  4. I like many reported this nearly six years ago and have even reported it a further three times to the FSA and once to the Inland Revenue for what I see as breaches of taxable property rules.

    Why were the regulator so slow to act and why was Harlequin allowed to give detailed information on pension transfers and holding property within SIPP on its website when it is not authorised and regulated firm.

    Until the FSA starts to enforce the financial services marketing act 2000 on advertising this type of thing will continue to happen. I have personally witnessed many agents working for Harlequin give detailed pension presentations and none of them have been regulated or authorised. When I reported this to the FSA years ago they didn’t take it seriously stating that the transaction can only go ahead once it’s been referred to an IFA and it’s the IFA’s responsibility. The fact is this type of scheme wouldn’t even come into existence if the FSA took stronger action against unregulated introduces.

    It is not acceptable for a website to have full information on a pension and to simply have a disclosure notice at the bottom stating that they introduced to IFA’s. I for one up totally fed up having to pay out that this type of misrepresentation.

    If I have to pay fees to protect consumers and fund the FSA that I really wish they would do their job and close down these sites when we report them.

    I hope that there is a full and frank enquiry into why both the FSA and SFO didn’t take concerns of the IFA community seriously six years ago

  5. If fraud has been committed – like one or two other funds recently – I fail to see how, morally, the FSCS should have to compensate investors many of whom were drawn in by their greed ‘if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is’ comes to mind.

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