BRITISH expats who lost up to €20 million in a failed pension advisory firm believe their signatures may have been photocopied onto investment documents.
Around 300 Brits, most living in Spain, are battling to retrieve their funds after Alicante-based firm Continental Wealth Management (CWM) folded in September, as first reported in the Olive Press.
Boss Darren Kirby left for Australia following the closure of the company’s main Javea offices.
Victims, who are spread across Spain, as well as in Ibiza, Portugal, France and Turkey, fear illegal practices after being asked to sign blank dealing instructions.
Their pension pots were then invested in high-risk assets which were promised to pay out large commissions.
One 69-year-old pensioner told the Olive Press he lost €210,000 after transferring €470,000 despite stating he had a ‘low-medium risk’ attitude to investment.
“They should have been looking out for me and they were just feathering their own nests. To me they knew what they were doing.”
He added: “I believe some of the investments were made without my knowledge. I think that is the case because I do not recall signing sheets for all the investments I had.”
An email, seen by the Olive Press, shows CWM asking a client to sign and return a blank dealing instruction.
Another British expat, 55, who is trying to recover around €200,000, said some pensioners ‘have lost everything’.
“My paper work that I sent has been altered, my risk level was changed from medium to high and my dealing instructions have been photocopied repeatedly for buying and selling assets I didn’t authorise,” he said.
“I still have some money left and I am still young enough to get compensation, but my fund has gone down by half and I need compensation to get it back on track.
“But some people have lost everything and don’t have enough to live on. One retired person only has €50,000 left from €480,000.”
Andalucia-based lawyer Antonio Flores, whose firm Lawbird are representing some CWM victims, said signing blank investment sheets was ‘very worrying’.
“This negates the very essence of the service they are meant to offer,” said Flores. “It is a blank cheque to invest wherever, whenever.
“If standard practice, this is very worrying.
“Signing blank documents would be seen as irregular in a court of law. The problem with these firms is that they were all investing in highly risky investments without the clients knowing.”
He claimed that losses sustained by investors would hopefully be recoverable as the investments that failed to perform, or went bust, were linked to life insurance policies.
Pension trustees Momentum and Trafalgar are now attempting to recoup CMW clients’ losses.
The Olive Press has so far been unable to discover if CWM was registered to provide investment advice with Spain’s official financial regulator CNMV.
“They apparently had permission to sell insurance via a company regulated in Germany, it seems,” added Flores.
When the Olive Press spoke to one former CWM member of staff he denied any knowledge of clients’ signatures being duplicated or of clients being asked to sign blank dealing instructions.
“Not that I saw,” he said.
When we pointed out we had an email from CWM sent to a client asking them to sign a blank dealing instruction he replied: “I do not know how that has come about.
“We did not get too involved. There was a dealing desk.”