Squinting out on the serenity of the Mediterranean, simply past brightly colored beach-hut market stalls, you could possibly be forgiven for considering life in Spain is all solar, sea and sangria.

But for a whole lot of British individuals who have settled on the Costa Blanca, jap Spain, the truth is that monetary scams are as excessive as the warmth.

I am sitting in the patio space of a pleasing harbour-side resort in the upmarket metropolis of Denia. I am with dozens of expats who’ve had their pensions robbed and whose lives have been turned the wrong way up.

Retirement in ruins: Bob Bowden, Julie Calladine, David Croft and Tim Benjamin are among hundreds to have lost out

Retirement in ruins: Bob Bowden, Julie Calladine, David Croft and Tim Benjamin are amongst a whole lot to have misplaced out

They have been swindled by native British monetary advisers whom the group had each purpose to belief – with large plush workplaces, repeated claims of being regulated and dealing with large world manufacturers.

The group has a lot in frequent financially. All wished to handle their pensions from Spain moderately than again in the UK the place they’d no intention of returning – and all wished a secure residence for his or her cash.

But advisers from now defunct Continental Wealth Management as an alternative shovelled their cash into high-risk investment schemes that paid big commissions.

The group are a small however courageous bunch, reflecting a a lot bigger set of individuals. There are regarded as a whole lot of individuals in Spain and past – France, Portugal and Italy included – who’ve misplaced as much as £25million on account of Continental’s actions.

Among them is Joan, a sensible, elegant woman with poise, who has been sitting quietly by way of a lot of my dialogue with fellow victims. But ultimately she tells me she obtained abusive cellphone calls from Darren Kirby – the chief architect behind Continental and a person now notorious on the Costa Blanca.

A person who, replying to a social media publish about somebody’s birthday, boasted: ‘Our household has a internet price of 15-20million relying on the accountant. Every f****** day is our birthday!!’

Joan’s husband Derek was initially answerable for the couple’s monetary affairs. He was visited commonly by workers of Continental and was handing over £1,200 each quarter to ‘pay the accountant’.

They tried each doable approach to get cash from us. There is not any hope that I can see 

Though Joan discovered it odd, she did not assume it her place to query and did not know on the time her husband was in the early levels of dementia. ‘I began demanding receipts,’ says 86-year-old Joan. 

Then she refused to pay, receiving two significantly horrifying and nasty cellphone calls from Kirby. She has misplaced round £600,000 from investments with Continental. Even when Derek was very poorly and in a nursing residence, Continental’s advisers tried to push her into signing types that may have seen them cost but extra charges.

Derek died 5 years in the past. ‘They by no means stopped,’ she provides. ‘They tried each conceivable approach to get cash from us.’

Joan is now promoting her home so she will be able to stay off the proceeds however is struggling to discover a purchaser. She tells me in a faltering voice that she tried to finish her life and provides: ‘There is not any hope that I can see.’

Semi-retired businessman Bob Bowden, 77, is considered one of an 18-strong alliance that’s decided to make sure that these accountable are held accountable. The group has just lately filed a legal grievance in the Denia courts in a struggle for justice. They have misplaced a mixed £2.5million. Bob says: ‘For me the ordeal started in 2009 after I put my religion in Paul Clarke of Continental.

‘That determination led to me shedding £300,000 – a substantial portion of my pensions and savings.’ Clarke even instructed Bob to ‘sit again now and chill out’ whereas he took care of his funds.

Swindled: Continental Wealth Management operated from the upmarket resort of Denia

Swindled: Continental Wealth Management operated from the upmarket resort of Denia

By 2014, Bob had grown suspicious when investment statements have been displaying appreciable losses. Like fellow victims, Bob was reassured these have been ‘solely paper losses’ – a short-term dip that may proper itself by the point his investment matured. But it did not sit effectively with Bob.

‘I bitterly remorse ever trusting Clarke,’ he provides. ‘But workers all the time pressured their expertise and the corporate’s credentials with ensures it was absolutely regulated.’

Other buyers’ tales comply with an identical sample to Bob’s, various solely in private or minor particulars or in phrases of what it has value them financially and emotionally.

Some buyers have been launched to Continental through a cold-call, some by an advert in the native press and others by suggestions from mates who have been purchasers.

Continental Wealth Management was based by Kirby in 2008 and had an workplace in the historic city of Javea in Costa Blanca, earlier than shifting to an upmarket workplace based mostly on the luxurious Marriot Hotel in close by Denia. 

It all appeared real and above board. We thought we might know a shark if we met one 

It attracted British expats from throughout the area as a result of it was run by British monetary advisers, giving purchasers the benefit of talking their mom tongue. It closed in September 2017. Kirby instructed The Mail on Sunday he had earlier bought his shares to a gaggle of six people together with his companion Jody.

Continental organized for purchasers’ pensions to be moved out of the UK and right into a ‘Qrops’ scheme – described to them as the proper resolution for expats as a result of they’re supposedly extra versatile, worldwide and tax-efficient. 

The phrase Qrops stands for ‘qualifying recognised abroad pension scheme’ that meets necessities laid down by HM Revenue & Customs. But utilizing these schemes, buyers’ cash was then invested through reliable multinational firms comparable to Generali, Old Mutual International and Nordic financial institution SEB into high-risk, difficult investments referred to as ‘structured notes’. Bob’s affairs remained with Continental.

These notes have been complicated monetary devices that generated returns in keeping with whether or not a selected inventory market, share or commodity value rose over a pre-determined time interval. Returns might show engaging, however such notes meant buyers might lose every little thing.

Now defunct Continental Wealth Management was run by Darren Kirby

Now defunct Continental Wealth Management was run by Darren Kirby

None of the victims understood these notes or would ever have chosen them as appropriate investments. They are meant just for skilled buyers. Advisers selected them not as a result of they suited their conservative customer-base however due to the excessive commissions out there – of as much as eight per cent on the quantity invested.

Many of those investments didn’t carry out and buyers misplaced a mean of 50 per cent of their cash – some misplaced extra. Any remaining funds at the moment are locked up and are being eaten away by charges. Withdrawing the cash would set off large exit charges, obliterating no matter is left.

Continental acted as an appointed consultant of Inter-Alliance WorldNet, which claimed to be regulated in Cyprus. But in a letter to Bob, seen by The Mail on Sunday, The Financial Ombudsman of the Republic of Cyprus confirms that Inter-Alliance WorldNet has by no means held a licence and was fined in 2009 for providing investment companies with out authorisation.

It admits to receiving complaints concerning the firm – ‘all of them regarding giant quantities of invested capital, largely from pensioners’. Inter-Alliance was later taken over by Trafalgar International.

Bob counts himself as ‘one of many fortunate ones’ as a result of he has different sources of revenue and savings that permit him to stay comfortably.

He says: ‘It nonetheless hurts me that I’ve misplaced this sum. Meanwhile, these accountable at Continental reaped big unlawful private beneficial properties and it’s deeply upsetting.’

Paul Clarke continued to advise Bob when he later labored for UK- regulated firm AES International. AES director Sam Instone says Clarke held a ‘registered introducer’s contract’ – successfully a licence for Clarke to carry new enterprise to the corporate – in 2011 and 2012. The contract was later terminated. Bob’s investments remained with Continental.

I hear a couple of instances from members of the group that they’re ‘fortunate’ or ‘not the worst’ case. For some it is because they have not misplaced as a lot – even when the sum is almost every little thing they’d – whereas others are simply grateful to nonetheless personal their residence. But all communicate of the overwhelming stress they’ve endured and plenty of live with acute well being situations exacerbated or triggered by the actions of Continental.

Check you’re coping with a correct agency 

  • Ask for particulars – and proof – of adviser and firm authorisations. Then cross-check these particulars with the related nationwide regulator, for instance the FCA in the UK at register.fca.org.uk.
  • Remember that chilly calls about pensions are unlawful in the UK.
  • Treat all corporations with scepticism till you will have confirmed independently that they’re regulated – and what particularly they’re permitted to do. Some of these concerned in this debacle have been regulated, however to not take care of investments or pensions.
  • Be cautious of transferring pension cash out of UK schemes the place they’re strictly ruled and into ‘versatile’ preparations comparable to Qrops and Sipps.
  • Get free steerage about your pension choices in case you’re over 50. Visit pensionwise.gov.uk or name 0800 138 3944 to ebook an appointment.

Peter, 78, and Angela, 77 (whose names have been modified to guard their identities) have misplaced greater than £250,000. They have been pressured to downsize and might’t bear to inform their household about what has occurred for worry of upsetting their grandchildren.

Peter says: ‘It has modified our lives. We are devastated as a result of the fruits of all our life’s work have gone and I really feel embarrassed and responsible. We are praying we are able to get one thing again – or at the very least that individuals will find yourself in jail.’

The couple was suggested by Stephen Ward of Premier Pension Solutions, which labored on behalf of Continental to switch buyers’ pensions out of UK schemes.

Peter reveals me an electronic mail from Ward confirming the couple’s threat profile as ‘conservative’. It reiterates their want for investments to be income-generating, straightforward to launch and comparatively low threat.

There was no purpose to doubt Ward’s professionalism – he was famend in the pensions enterprise with 40 years’ expertise. He is even the creator of quite a few industry-leading textbooks about pensions – written to assist information different professionals. He was additionally beforehand an ‘authorized particular person’ with UK regulator the Financial Conduct Authority.

But Ward, now 64, and his Alicante-based enterprise Premier Pension Solutions are linked to different monetary scandals which have robbed strange individuals of their cash.

In 2017, The Pensions Regulator in the UK declared that Ward, in his capability as a pension trustee, was ‘reckless’ and confirmed ‘lack of integrity’, regardless of being an ‘skilled skilled’.

He is now banned from appearing as a pension trustee.

During my keep in Denia I additionally take an internet video name from pharmacists Richard Bicknell and Rebeccah Cooke who stay in France. They too have been cold-called by Continental and visited at residence. Richard has misplaced three-quarters of his pension whereas Rebeccah has misplaced half.

Richard says: ‘Everything appeared above-board and real. We all the time thought we might know a shark if we met one.’ The couple produce other investments and are nonetheless desperately working to prime up their savings.

Builder David Croft and his companion Julie Calladine, who works as a carer, have misplaced all religion in pensions and consider nobody could be trusted.

Julie, 61, says: ‘It looks as if there’s nothing and nobody to guard us. We are on our personal.’

While I am there the group pay tribute to a former Continental worker who turned a sufferer himself. Mark Davison held an admin position and was satisfied by his bosses to take a position. He misplaced every little thing together with his pension, residence and savings.

Mark died final month. His good friend and fellow sufferer Tim Benjamin, 67, who’s battling most cancers on prime of his personal struggle towards Continental, tells us that Mark would have wished the group to discover a ‘decision to the abyss we discover ourselves in’.

Their testimony is heartbreaking, however there are nonetheless extra victims I meet on the resort with harrowing tales to inform. Among them is Sally Burnett, 84. She has lived in Spain for 30 years however has Parkinson’s Disease and now makes use of a wheelchair. She says: ‘One day I had £30,000 and the subsequent day I did not.’

Sally reveals me a folder of paperwork. Some are from Inter-Alliance WorldNet confirming her investment supplied safety, was regulated, tax environment friendly and would give easy accessibility to her cash.

Continental Wealth Management was founded in 2008 and initially had an office in the historic town of Javea in Costa Blanca

Continental Wealth Management was based in 2008 and initially had an workplace in the historic city of Javea in Costa Blanca 

Nothing might have been farther from the reality. The cash that was meant to assist her stay along with her situation and obtain the care she wants has gone. She now depends on the assistance of a good friend and her daughter, and will get by on a State pension.

So simply how did all these low-risk savers find yourself in high-risk ventures? A person who solely wished to be recognized as Andrew B echoes what I’ve heard repeated many times since I arrived. Forged or ‘copied and pasted’ signatures – wanted for giant insurance coverage corporations to simply accept the influx of cash from Continental.

Sally tells me she was persuaded to signal some types and that her advisers would fill in the blanks later. Andrew says he is aware of his signature has been copied.

He says: ‘My handwriting is like that of a physician – it is barely legible. But after I demanded proof from SEB of my consent to take a position in its structured notes, each signature was an identical. I might by no means have been in a position to obtain that if I had signed them.’

Investors all blame themselves. But additionally they really feel badly let down by regulators for not defending them. They accuse the regulators and police of impotence for permitting the culprits to stay with impunity – and large bond suppliers as complicit for taking cash from unregulated advisers.

Paul Clarke instructed The Mail on Sunday he labored for Continental for just below two years till he fled in 2010. He claims by no means to have earned any cash from commissions and that he tried to argue for higher compliance by the corporate. But finally he blames Kirby.

Clarke provides: ‘Kirby got here throughout as believable at first, and I swallowed it, however the man is a monster. I do really feel sorry for purchasers and consider they’re all harmless – they weren’t grasping and did not know what they have been moving into. They have been all duped. And I do not class myself as a scammer both – I really feel like a sufferer of Kirby too.’

Old Mutual International says it isn’t aware about discussions between pension trustees, prospects and advisers, so can’t touch upon recommendation or investments chosen. It provides: ‘We tremendously sympathise with buyers.’

SEB says it’s ‘involved’ to listen to that purchasers of Continental believed investments chosen for them have been inappropriate, including: ‘The consumer and their impartial monetary adviser work collectively to pick the investments best suited to them.’

Stephen Ward was unavailable for remark. Darren Kirby denies ever making threatening cellphone calls, says his social media remark was solely ‘tongue-in-cheek’ and blames the actions of Continental’s homeowners – after he bought his shares – for the plight of pensioners. He provides: ‘What occurred is horrific. But I didn’t personal the corporate for years and we labored underneath the umbrella of Inter-Alliance WorldNet.

‘I took my eye off the ball however I’ve been made a scapegoat and have misplaced every little thing. Scam shouldn’t be the best phrase – we did not run away with out purchasers’ cash.’ 

 

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