Today I raised in Parliament the case of a constituent who has lost nearly £500,000 following the sudden collapse of a payment services firm. Pauline Creasey, from Dover, is one of 250 customers across the UK affected by the shutdown of Premier FX. Terri and Brian Randall from the Tonbridge & Malling area have lost £44,675. Residents in the Maidstone & the Weald area have lost a total of more than £100,000 too.
Administrators have received claims of around £10.6 million from consumers – but report that the firm only has £1.1 million in assets. Ms Creasey, single parent and responsible for three generations of her family, met with Charlie at one of his constituency surgeries earlier this month and told him she was owed £462,113 by the Portugal-based firm.
Premier FX was authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) as a money remittance firm. Yet the administrators have said that Premier FX was undertaking activities beyond that authorisation – deposit taking and potentially some trading in forward contracts.
The sole director and shareholder of the firm, Peter Rexstrew, is "said to be dead" following heart surgery at a Lisbon hospital on June 16 last year. The firm went into administration on August 13 2018 – without sufficient assets to cover its customers' claims.
Ms Creasey told me that she had intended to buy a house in the UK after selling her home in Portugal, where she had been working. But when the purchase of the UK house fell through, she had looked for a safe and secure place to put the funds and deposited it with Premier FX. Ms Creasey says the firm claimed they were authorised by the FCA and Barclays to hold escrow accounts and they were protected by the firm's compensation scheme as well as UK banking laws.
She had been using Premier FX since 2006 for foreign exchange transactions and found the service prompt and cost effective. The firm sponsored TV programme 'A Place in the Sun', was a member of the British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce and recommended by a number of high profile financial and legal firms.
I vowed to take up Ms Creasey's case with the authorities – and today challenged Andrew Bailey, chief executive of the FCA, during a Treasury Select Committee hearing.
I said: "I want to ask you about cases affecting one of my constituents who's lost £500,000 in the collapse of Premier FX.
"The firm was able to misrepresent its FCA authorisation, which was for remittances, and effectively represented themselves as a deposit taker.
"How were they able to act beyond their authorisation?"
Mr Bailey replied: "Well if that is indeed what they did – and there's a strong suspicion that's what they did – then it's illegal, first of all.
"So we are, as you probably know, carrying out an investigation. I am very concerned that the money of individuals has been lost in this activity. My team so far, I can tell you, has looked at nearly 250,000 transaction records to try and trace this money – and we will not stop doing this.
"But I would say to you quite honestly, the principal involved in this activity is said to be dead. I think it is incumbent upon his relatives, his business partners, to tell us where the money is."
Charlie then raised concerns over the FCA's response to reported warnings about the activity of Premier FX.
Charlie said: "In 2017, the Bank of Portugal fined Premier FX for trading outside the regulations in compliance with its license in Portugal and reported that to the FCA. There was no follow-up by the FCA under safeguarding regulations. Why was the breach not detected?"
Mr Bailey replied: "We will look thoroughly at the record of this case. The first priority is to find the money, frankly, because that's what we owe to the victims. If we missed clues in this case, particularly in the reauthorisation process under the European Payment Services Directive, we will look at that.
"I also have to say, as you rightly point out, I don't know which jurisdiction some of this activity went on in yet, because it crosses over between the UK and Portugal – but we will look at that."
I am deeply concerned by this case and am determined to do everything I can to help Pauline and other victims of Premier FX get their money back. The FCA must treat this as a top priority. I am meeting with Mr Bailey to press him further on this matter – and I am working with fellow MPs too. Innocent people have been left in terrible financial hardship. The authorities need to get to the bottom of this urgently.
I have also written to City Minister John Glen MP, Security Minister Ben Wallace MP and Barclays CEO Jes Staley expressing my serious concerns.
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