Out for the count: investment “recovery room” con wound up in the High Court
Portman Chandlers Limited, a company claiming to be an international investment business whose services included ‘equity investment solutions’ and which contacted victims of investment scams promising it could recover their money, has been ordered into liquidation in the High Court for a lack of transparency as to its management and failure to maintain or deliver up adequate accounting records.
The winding-up order was made on a petition presented by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills to wind up the company in the public interest and followed confidential enquiries carried out by Company Investigations, part of the Insolvency Service.
The investigation found that whilst the company’s website www.portmanchandlers.co.uk appeared extremely in-depth and made the company seem legitimate, significant parts of the website were in fact copied almost totally from a large, legitimate independent global investment management company which has no connection whatsoever with Portman.
The Court also heard the company’s London registered office was one at which the company had no presence nor any registration there to use the business services provided and that despite extensive enquiries no-one could be traced by the investigation who had any knowledge of the company’s affairs.
The investigation also found an investor who had previously been the victim of a company called Global Neutral Ltd that was ordered into liquidation on grounds of public interest for mis-selling voluntary carbon credits to the public for investment was cold called by Portman Chandlers Limited posing as a reputable company. The investor was told that he was one of the ‘lucky ones’ whose carbon credit investments were safe and had significantly gained in value and was advised to transfer this holdings and to further invest in an investment bond under the company’s management. Unluckily for the company’s salesman by the name of James Knight, the investor chose instead to contact the Insolvency Service’s leading investigator, thus leading to the investigation and forcible closure of the company by the Court.
Welcoming the Court’s winding up decision Chris Mayhew, Company Investigations Supervisor, said:
I would once more urge potential investors to hang up on cold calling, manipulative and deceitful investment sharks including those claiming to be able to recover your money already lost to investment scams.
If you have been unfortunate to be contacted by this company the Official Receiver now handling its affairs will be glad to hear from you.
The Insolvency Service will not allow rogue companies to rip-off vulnerable and honest people and will investigate abuses and close down companies if they are found to be operating or about to operate, against the public interest.
Notes to Editors:
Portman Chandlers Limited (CRO No. 08913315) was incorporated on 26 February 2014. The registered office throughout has been 3rd Floor, 207 Regent Street, London, W1B 3HH. The sole director and secretary throughout are shown to have been Mr James Humphreys. According to the application to register the company it has an authorised share capital of £1 consisting of £1 ordinary share shown to be held by Mr Humphreys.
The petition to wind up the company was presented in the High Court on 19 January 2015 under the provisions of section 124A of the Insolvency Act 1986 following confidential enquiries carried out by Company Investigations under section 447 of the Companies Act 1985, as amended. The petition was unopposed.
The grounds to wind up the company were its lack of transparency as to its management and failure to maintain or deliver up adequate accounting records.
In ordering the company into liquidation on grounds of public interest on 18 March 2015 Mr Registrar Jones gave a damning judgement in which he said:
This is the petition of the Secretary of State seeking the winding up of Portman Chandlers Limited. Counsel for the Secretary of State Mr Mark Mullen has taken me through the evidence of Mr Christopher Mayhew verifying the investigator Mrs Angela Fifield-Smith’s detailed evidence. Nobody has attended or sought to oppose the winding up of the company. Mr Mullen, quite rightly, submits that the aspect of the public interest that needs to be protected is the maintenance of minimum standards of commercial behaviour and honesty.
Whilst the petition is based on the relatively limited grounds, and I quote ‘lack of transparency as to management/failure to maintain, preserve and/or deliver up adequate accounting records’, this is a serious matter. There is no accounting information available to the public and the nature of the company’s business has to be identified by reference to its website which remains operational and states that the company provides ‘equity investment services’ along with other types of financial investments including reference to equity shares.
The evidence of the type of business the company is trying to transact can be seen from the following account by an anonymous 73 year old contacted by the company who then posted this question on a website: ‘How can I check out Portman Chandlers Ltd – 08913315 company number. They are offering to recover my Carbon Credit and Rare Earth Metals investments and place the £60,000+ into their Corporate Bond? Are they legitimate and is the Bond safe when paying 12% per annum for 2 years? If I agree to place the recovered monies into their own corporate bond there is no fee, but monies are locked for about 15 months (Recovery process plus 12 months. Interest of 12% is promised rate)… I can access monies quicker if I pay them 10% up front deposit – which is repaid upon successful recovery. They say it is certain, just allow 3 to six months.’
I doubt very much that the investor would ever have recovered £60,000+ and the company’s purpose appears to be to incur further damage and distress to those that dealt with Global Neutral Ltd and other such companies.
Whoever is behind this particular company evidently intended to use it to the detriment of the public and it is important that the public is warned of this. This concern is substantiated by the uncontested evidence that the website is largely a copy of a very legitimate business and well known global investment company. The company sought to copy that website in order to make itself appear legitimate.
The company is plainly one that lacks transparency in all forms. Despite the investigator’s detailed enquiries no-one claiming to have any knowledge of the company’s affairs has been found. Its director Mr Humphreys says he knows nothing about the company’s affairs nor of a Mr Knight. Emails sent by the investigator to the two email addresses provided on the company’s website could not be delivered. The investigator contacted the registrant of the domain name and then rang the telephone number which had been provided to them by the company. It was answered by a Mr Prashant Mugali who said that he worked for Credit Suisse Bank and had not heard of the company or its recorded director Mr Humphrey. The investigator did not stop there and contacted Credit Suisse in London who could not find Mr Mugali in their global staff list.
The fact that the company is purporting to use a registered address at which it is not registered is in itself sufficient to justify the winding up. In all it is plain that it is in the public interest that the company be wound up so as to prevent the company from carrying on future business and that its business conducted to date can be properly investigated and I do so order.
Global Neutral Ltd was ordered into liquidation (with other companies) on grounds of public interest on 18 December 2013.
A carbon credit is a certificate or permit which represents the right to emit one tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) and can be traded for money. The Financial Conduct Authority has issued consumer information on carbon credit trading and what to consider before investing.
The Financial Conduct Authority has published the conclusions of a survey to find out whether anyone has profited by buying carbon credits as investments and also help for those most at risk of investment fraud and additionally how to report it.
In November 2013 the Insolvency Service highlighted action taken by the Secretary of State against 19 companies involved in the marketing of carbon credits to the public for investment and more recently warned investors of such activity following the closure of two more such companies.
Company Investigations, part of the Insolvency Service, uses powers under the Companies Act 1985 to conduct confidential fact-finding investigations into the activities of live limited companies in the UK on behalf of the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills. Further information about live company investigations is available.
The Insolvency Service administers the insolvency regime, investigating all compulsory liquidations and individual insolvencies (bankruptcies) through the Official Receiver to establish why they became insolvent. It may also use powers under the Companies Act 1985 to conduct confidential fact-finding investigations into the activities of live limited companies in the UK. In addition, the agency authorises and regulates the insolvency profession, deals with disqualification of directors in corporate failures, assesses and pays statutory entitlement to redundancy payments when an employer cannot or will not pay employees, provides banking and investment services for bankruptcy and liquidation estate funds and advises ministers and other government departments on insolvency law and practice.
Further information about the work of the Insolvency Service, and how to complain about financial misconduct, is available.
By virtue of the winding up orders all public enquiries concerning the affairs of the companies should be made to: The Official Receiver, Public Interest Unit , 4 Abbey Orchard Street, London, SW1P 2HT. Telephone: 0207 637 1110 Email: email@example.com.
Published: 26 March 2015
From: The Insolvency Service