One of the very first unregulated pension investments and without doubt one of the most notorious. The first of the Harlequin group of companies was formed away back in 2004 by David Ames a former photocopier salesman. He is currently charged by the Serious Fraud Office over three counts of fraud. As many as 6,000 people were induced to part with their savings to invest in supposed off-plan luxury resorts in the Caribbean. The most famous of which was Buccament Bay in St Vincent. Harlequin with the promise of incredible returns and hotel rooms that investors could actually use too, pulled in close to £400 million pounds. In 2017, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) decided to treat these as UCIS (Unregulated Collective Investment Schemes meaning they finally qualified for investor protection.
Sold through a network of unregulated agents, pension holders were introduced to Douglas Baillie Ltd and it’s sister company the Pension Specialist. They used their valuable G60 qualifications to sign off the transfer of funds into SIPPs from final salary, defined benefit and guaranteed pension schemes. It’s believed that sales commissions were as much as 15%. Embarrassingly many celebrities found themselves promoting and endorsing Harlequin including the likes of footballer Andy Townsend, TV property expert Phil Spencer and even Liverpool F.C.
One of the major unregulated agents for Harlequin was based in Scotland. Donald Paterson a financial advisor from Troon also recommended investing in Store First and Park First through his company Map Global Property Investments a division of the Map Group. Other brands include Map Premier Ltd and Mortgage Advice Partnership. If these offerings weren’t tempting enough, they also gave investors the opportunity to sink their hard earned cash into properties in Florida.