Fraud victims who lost over £10m in a UK currency firm collapse have won a remarkable battle to get all their money back.
The company’s bank, Barclays, has been fined and condemned by the regulator for “a failure to conduct its business with due skill, care and diligence”. Barclays has agreed to refund victims.
Premier FX collapsed in 2018 after the sudden death of owner Peter Rexstrew, and administrators soon discovered that £11.2m of customers’ money was missing. It is still missing.
The Surrey-based company was licensed by the Financial Conduct Authority, but only for transferring customers’ funds.
Premier also encouraged its clients to deposit cash – an operation which its FCA licence didn’t cover – and then mixed it with company funds.
‘Three people died within six months of discovering their money had been stolen’
Businesswoman Pauline Creasey, who lost nearly £500,000 and led 167 victims into battle to retrieve their money, said: “After more than three years without our money I felt quite dazed to hear we will get it back.
“But it’s been horrible, very stressful and exhausting and a lot of people have got very ill. I think we lost six or seven claimants who died during the process.
“Three died within six months of discovering that their money had been stolen and I think that’s pretty ghastly to die knowing a lifetime’s work has been scammed by some nasty fraudster who had a licence from the UK authorities.”
She said the victims, mostly elderly people selling up in the UK to buy modest retirement homes in Portugal and Spain, had lost properties, life savings and pension pots in the Premier collapse.
The scandal was highlighted by Sky News in a series of interviews with victims, some in tears, who spoke of their shock, anger and devastation.
Victims’ initial pleas for help were rejected by Surrey Police who said an investigation would be “extremely difficult” and “the cost in terms of finance and staff will be high.”
They were also turned down by the City of London Police, the Serious Fraud Office, Action Fraud, Barclays and HM Treasury.
Ms Creasey, from Kent, said: “I spoke quite a bit early on to the Treasury, which is responsible for the legal framework of the FCA, but a senior official said to me ‘don’t waste your time, you won’t get anywhere, no government department will take responsibility for it, you’ll just end up upsetting yourself even more.’
“He said no-one is interested in fraud in the UK; the government will only get involved if it’s a big international scam and there’s some kudos in working together with our international partners to actually bring down some big crooks and it’s good for us and the City of London.
“He said it’s a sad little story and we hear these stories all the time, but you are no different from other people who have lost their money from scammers. I felt quite insulted. I just thought I’m not going to let this go.”
Eventually, the FCA was persuaded to investigate and fined Barclays £783,800, a penalty which it said would have been much bigger if it wasn’t for Barclays’ offer to refund the victims.
‘Barclays failed to make enquiries’
The FCA said: “Barclays failed to make enquiries to ensure that Premier FX’s actual business activity aligned with Barclays’ expectations and did not identify that Premier FX’s internal controls were deficient. This constituted a failure by Barclays to conduct its business with due skill, care and diligence.
“The financial penalty takes into account that Barclays has agreed voluntarily to cover the losses of Premier FX customers whose claims have been accepted by Premier FX’s liquidators.
“Following the distribution by the liquidator amounting to 9p for every £1 lost, Barclays’ voluntary payment of £10,076,943.75 will make up the difference, meaning all 167 customers of Premier FX with accepted claims will have 100% of their money returned.”
Victim Graham Dyke, a retired manufacturing engineer, lost what he describes as a “modest amount” compared with some losers, but said: “To be honest, if it had been only a fiver I’d have chased them.”
He said at his Manchester home: “We spent many long hours studying banking and payment regulations, insolvency regulations and so on, and in truth that allowed us to put a really strong case where the FCA and Barclays had failed us.
“We were never going to get any money from Premier FX, but most definitely we had been failed by those organisations. Fraud is an easy and fast-growing form of robbery and it’s not being stopped, not being checked.”
A Barclays spokesperson said: “Barclays has reached a resolution with the FCA following an investigation into its oversight and monitoring of a former customer, Premier FX Limited.
“As part of this resolution, Barclays has agreed to pay a penalty of £783,800 and make an ex gratia payment to be distributed amongst Premier FX’s customers. Barclays fully co-operated with the FCA’s investigation.”
Last week, two major reports into policing, by Police Foundation and HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, condemned poor police response to fraud, now the most prevalent crime in England and Wales.