SFO investigates £120m alleged pension fraud

SFO investigates £120m alleged pension fraud

The Serious Fraud Office has opened an investigation into the Capita Oak Pension and Henley Retirement Benefit self-invested personal pensions (Sipps), as well as other storage pod investment schemes.

The investigation includes the Westminster Pension Scheme and Trafalgar Multi Asset Fund which invested in other products.

Over a thousand individual investors are thought to have been affected by the alleged fraud, including those who invested their pension funds. The amounts invested total over £120m.

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The SFO encourages members of the public who have invested in these schemes over the period 2011 to 2017 to complete a questionnaire which is available on its website.

The SFO’s investigation is being assisted by Project Bloom partners including the National Crime Agency and The Pensions Regulator. The Spanish authorities also assisted the investigation.

Project Bloom is a multi-agency group which was set up to tackle pension liberation fraud in a co-ordinated way.

Fraud has been a longstanding problem in the pensions industry, with savers targeted who want early access to their pension fund before age 55.

So-called liberation scams see money invested in non-existent assets for investors looking for unattainable returns.

The then regulator the Financial Services Authority first warned advisers about unregulated collective investment schemes such as store pods in Sipps in 2013.

The FSA highlighted a problem area where a few advisers were carrying out pension transfers without weighing up the prospective investments adequately.

The FSA pointed to some financial advisers who had moved their clients money to Sipps which invested wholly or primarily in high risk, often highly illiquid unregulated investments, such as overseas property, store pods, forestry and film schemes.

Store pods are storage facilities placed around the country. Investors buy the units on the promise of high returns, but often find there is little demand for the service and that it is very difficult to sell the storage pod at a later date.