Pension Firms That Cost Clients $113 Million Lose FCA Fight

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A pair of pension firms that lost almost 92 million pounds ($113 million) in investments in projects such as Brazilian real estate and tree farms while charging allegedly exorbitant fees lost a U.K. court ruling that found they acted improperly, the U.K.’s financial watchdog said.

The court ruled against Avacade Ltd., which is in liquidation, Alexandra Associates (UK) Ltd., and directors Craig Lummis, Lee Lummis and Raymond Fox in the civil case, the Financial Conduct Authority said in an email on June 30.

The companies provided pension services to consumers without FCA authorization and made misleading statements to get consumers to transfer their funds into alternative investments such as office space available for rent known as HotPods, tree plantations and Brazilian property developments, the regulator said.

“The actions of those involved put the pension savings of thousands of people at risk,” Mark Steward, executive director of enforcement at the FCA, said in the statement. “We will now seek restitution for them.”

About 68 million pounds of the customers’ funds were put into products promoted by Avacade, with another 905,000 pounds invested into a fixed rate bond relating to a Brazilian property development promoted by Alexandra Associates.

The two companies took commissions of around 10.8 million pounds for the investments, many of which have failed or are in liquidation, the FCA said.

Attorney Omid Khub, who represented Alexandra Associates and Craig and Lee Lummis, said they were planning an appeal in at least one part of the case.

Khub said Alexandra Associates and the directors operated as an introducer to several FCA-regulated providers of self-invested personal pensions and other products, and those companies advised the clients on their options and made the investments.

Avacade entered into voluntary liquidation in 2015. The FCA is seeking court orders banning Alexandra Associates, Craig and Lee Lummis and Fox from engaging in unauthorized activities in the U.K.

Attempts to reach Fox through his former attorney were unsuccessful.

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