Police are investigating the £10m crash of a foreign exchange firm that helped Britons buy new homes in the sun.
Premier FX went bust after UK regulator the Financial Conduct Authority discovered it had been acting without full authorisation.
The company was licensed only to transfer clients’ money, but many were encouraged to leave their cash with it in the hope they would benefit from a rise in currency exchange rates.
Administrators have told customers that Premier FX had no authorisation to hold their money, so they will get no compensation.
The FCA told Sky News: “We are very concerned that there was criminal activity taking place at Premier FX in relation to missing funds.
“We are investigating the business undertaken by Premier FX and will take action against any individuals we find to have broken the law in order to return money to customers of the firm.”
Victims say they believed their money was deposited in segregated accounts with the company’s bankers Barclays, but that was not the case. Barclays refused to comment.
Victims hope the administrators will be able to find the company’s funds, but have been warned there is “a significant shortfall”.
Civil servants Bryn and Trish Paling, from Bristol, had retired early and were days from completing the purchase of a new home on Portugal’s Algarve coast.
They had channelled £272,000 into Premier FX. The money has gone, and the house in Olhao is back on the market.
Trish Paling, 53, said: “I feel they didn’t just steal our money, they stole our future and our dreams.
“I found it very depressing and upsetting. I’ve cried and cried and just when I think I have no tears left, I find more.”
The crash was triggered by the sudden death of founder and sole director Peter Rexstrew in a Lisbon hospital in June.
His son Charlie Rexstrew and daughter, Katy Grogan, were appointed directors two days later, but stopped trading in July.
Their solicitor said: “With little assistance from Barclays and with limited information our clients were unable to reconcile the company’s finances/accounts.”
When the FCA discovered the company’s unauthorised activity it forced it into administration.
Bryn Paling, 57, said the FCA should have been aware of how Premier FX was using its customers’ money.
He said: “FCA authorisation doesn’t actually mean a great deal.
“It doesn’t actually do any checks or audits on these companies. They give them a list of things to follow, then it’s left to the company directors to abide by the rules. If they don’t, nobody checks them.”
Chef Dave Pratley, 59, sold his Oxfordshire restaurant and moved his Portuguese wife Teresa and family to the Algarve last year.
The bought a home with money channelled through Premier FX, but he was renovating the hillside property when the company crashed and his £56,000 disappeared.
In tears, he said: “Hand on heart, I don’t expect to get anything back. If I don’t it will kill me. It wasn’t a dream. This was achievable, really achievable.”
From – SkyNews