A London-based broker targeting often vulnerable investors, mis-selling them various ?alternative investment? products has been ordered into liquidation following a petition presented by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to wind up the company on grounds of public interest.
Cutler and Ross Limited, which was formerly known and traded as, Sussex Associates Limited, sold investments in a range products including wine, fancy coloured diamonds and working interests in oil wells. Although denied by the company, the investigation also showed that it sold investments in storage units and art.
The company sold alternative investments valued in excess of ?3 million from which it received commissions of at least ?1,384,662.
The Company issued a brochure to investors promoting coloured diamonds stating that it was:
A boutique brokerage that sources rare natural coloured diamonds for buyers seeking to diversify their portfolio.
Sussex Associates will help you choose the most appropriate diamonds for your portfolio. This involves assisting in the colour selection, size and other characteristics of the diamond in order to maximise your return. Using our global network we will then source the best quality, conflict free diamonds.
In fact, the company acted a broker for a single supplier. Total sales of diamonds by Sussex Associates amounted to ?288,673 from which Sussex Associates received ?203,816 in commission.
The company was warned by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) that in their opinion Sussex Associates had acted in breach of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (FSMA), which sets out rules on who can engage in regulated activities and the promotion of investment activity.
Despite giving the FCA assurances, on 23 July 2014, that it would ensure that it would not knowingly act in contravention of FSMA the company continued to promote investments in breach of the regulations selling a further ?728,000 of investments in oil alone.
The FCA issued a warning to the public about Sussex Associates Limited. The company subsequently changed its name, first to Compare Markets Limited and then to Cutler & Ross Limited. The company?s sole recorded officer, John Rimmer, admitted to the investigators from Company Investigations that the name change was as a result of the FCA?s warning.
Mr Rimmer informed the investigation that the company was simply an introducer. This argument did not hold water with the FCA, or the Court and was not supported by the evidence uncovered during the enquiries carried out by Company Investigations.
Evidence uncovered in the enquiry showed that, whilst by no means all, a good number of Sussex Associates clients were elderly and/or vulnerable individuals, who had often been targeted by other unscrupulous companies. Sadly, one investor was sold investments whilst suffering from dementia.
Welcoming the Court?s winding up decision David Hill, a Chief Investigator said:
The company persuaded members of the public to part with substantial sums of money by promising extremely high rates of return. In reality the investments were promoted only because they paid high rates of commission to the Company and were in fact not much more than worthless.
We work closely with a number of partners to prevent unscrupulous companies fleecing the vulnerable and the Insolvency Service will continue to investigate and bring to a halt the activities of companies harming or about to harm the public by operating in this way.