Troubled overseas property investment scheme Harlequin has put its headquarters up for sale.
The warehouse and offices in the Honywood Business Park in Basildon have been listed for sale on property website Rightmove for £525,000.
Harlequin owner David Ames would also consider leasing back the first floor offices at a rent of £25,000 per year, according to the advert.
A spokesperson for the company said: “Harlequin owns its Basildon offices and occupies the first floor of Unit 11, with all other space let to third parties.
“Harlequin is attempting to sell in order to discharge its liability and remove its responsibilities as a lessor.”
The move raises further questions over the financial situation of the company, which has received £400m from investors that they are currently unable to access.
Unregulated investment scheme Harlequin worked by taking deposits from mainly UK pension investors to build off-plan properties in the Caribbean, which could then be sold at a profit on completion or used to generate a rental income from holidaymakers.
But out of a scheduled 6,000 properties, about 300 have been built.
Harlequin has told investors that since its sales arm entered liquidation last October, it can not return their deposits, despite clauses in some investors’ contracts saying that, if the properties had not been built by now-lapsed deadlines, they would be entitled to a full refund.
Ames has blamed the problems at Harlequin on the “global recession, contractor fraud, defamatory campaigns and new FCA [Financial Conduct Authority] regulations”.
Advice to invest
About 85% of those who invested in Harlequin did so on the recommendation of a financial adviser, according to law firm Regulatory Legal which acts on behalf around 2,000 investors in the scheme.
The majority of the estimate 6,000 investors put money into the scheme via their self-invested personal pension (SIPP).
The Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) has said it will compensate SIPP claimants for losses in the value of their investments in Harlequin, in addition to compensating for lost pension growth and charges taken from their SIPPs.
These losses are likely to be substantial, leaving financial advisers on the hook for potentially hundreds of millions of pounds, after the FSCS wrote down the value of Harlequin investments to nil.
There is also the threat of regulatory action against advisers.
Fined and banned
Two ex-directors of failed adviser TailorMade Independent (TMI) – the main distributor of Harlequin – have been banned and fined by the regulator for not assessing the suitability of clients’ investments made through SIPPs.
Lloyd Pope and Peter Legerton have been banned from senior positions in financial services. Pope has been fined £93,800, while Legerton would have been fined £84,000 but for financial hardship.
The FCA found both men fundamentally failed to act in the best interests of clients, but Legerton benefitted financially from conflicts of interest between TailorMade and an unregulated firm that introduced new business to it.
Advisers and agents selling clients investments in Caribbean villas run by Harlequin received commissions of up to 15%, according to a lawyer close to the situation.
Pope and Legerton failed to ensure TailorMade assessed the suitability of clients’ investments made through SIPPs, failed to identify and manage its conflicts of interests and failed to properly oversee compliance, which had been outsourced to external consultants, the FCA said.
TailorMade entered liquidation in September 2013 because it could not finance redress payments being demanded by Harlequin investors.