Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
Ms M.J. writes: I have been scammed by Obatan.
I filled in a form and sent off my Sun Life Financial share certificate as Obatan said they were willing to buy my shares, but I have since received nothing.
Offer: Obatan is based in Glendale, California
Tony Hetherington replies: Let me say one thing immediately. You contacted me at a time when the Financial Conduct Authority had issued a public warning that Obatan might be providing financial services without its approval. It told everyone to ‘be wary of dealing with this unauthorised firm’ and advised on ‘steps you should take to protect yourself from scams’.
About four weeks later, the FCA withdrew every word of this. It announced: ‘The FCA does not, on the information presently available to it, believe that Obatan LLC is carrying out activities in the UK for which it requires to be authorised.’
So, what are those activities exactly? Well, Obatan – which is based in Glendale in California – has contacted shareholders in a number of companies, offering what are called ‘mini-tenders’. In a nutshell, it offers to buy their shares. This is completely legal, but rotten value for anyone who accepts. And because Obatan says it will only buy a modest stake in the target company, it is not caught by the normal rules involving takeover bids.
Sun Life Financial emphatically said that it did not recommend or endorse the offer, which was for £26 per share. This was about 39 per cent below the price you could have received on the stock market.
I imagine you missed this warning because you accepted the offer and sent your share certificate to Share Registrars, a company in Surrey that acted for Obatan. I asked Share Registrars for a comment and was immediately contacted by Obatan’s London-based lawyers, Edwin Coe.
Firing an unnecessary shot across my bows, the firm’s Russel Shear told me: ‘Please note that our client’s rights are reserved in respect of any information you choose to publish which is defamatory.’ He described the FCA’s warning as ‘wholly incorrect’, and added that the mini-tender offer had in fact been approved by someone authorised by the FCA.
Shear explained that Obatan was simply ‘providing a solution to accepting shareholders to dispose of their shares which might not otherwise be available to shareholders resident in the UK’.
I asked what was the problem that required a solution, and Shear told me it was the fact that Sun Life Financial shares are not listed in the UK. This is true, but they have a proper listing on the Toronto Stock Exchange, so they can easily be sold through a UK broker.
Neither Shear nor Share Registrars would tell me who is the FCAauthorised person who approved the offer, and Shear told me to stop asking questions as Obatan did not want what he described as an ‘ongoing debate’.
While all this was going on, you received a cheque for £3,354 as payment for your shares. If you had sold them through a broker instead of to Obatan, you would have received about £2,000 more.
Obatan has made similar mini-tender offers for shares in other companies, including Great-West Lifeco – which owns Canada Life – and Manulife. In each case, the offers are 30 to 40 per cent below the stock market price.
This is like me going to my next door neighbour and offering to buy his £20,000 car for £12,000. It is perfectly legal, and if my neighbour somehow assumes that I am being helpful and accepts the offer, then I get his car at knockdown price. But for him, just like Obatan’s offer to you and other investors, it is really, really rotten value.
Where did my BA air miles go?
J.H. writes: I am in dispute with BA, whose staff deleted my Executive Club membership from its system without warning. I did have over 550,000 Avios air miles.
BA has given a number of reasons, ranging from data protection to inactivity. The inactivity was caused by serious illness in the family and travel restrictions because of Covid.
Now it says it cannot locate my details on its system, which is of course because it has deleted my account.
Sting in the tail: BA staff deleted J.H.’s Executive Club membership from its system without warning
Tony Hetherington replies: BA told me that your account and all your air miles were deleted because the rules of the scheme say that you need to use your account at least once every 36 months.
But you have explained that your daughter had a serious long-term medical issue, culminating in surgery several months ago. This, together with the pandemic, kept you on the ground.
It was not until your daughter had recovered sufficiently that you tried to make a booking to take her to the US for a holiday, only to find that your Avios air miles had vanished. I am very happy to say that BA has reconsidered.
The airline told me: ‘Due to the significant amount Mr H had in his previous account, and that he wants to use them for his daughter, our team has on this occasion reactivated the Avios.’ Have a good holiday!
We’re watching you
A pair of South London fraudsters who cheated 2,000 investors out of £37million have each been jailed for 11 years.
Andrew Nathaniel Skeene, 44, and Junie Conrad Omari Bowers, 45, were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court last Wednesday after being convicted a few weeks ago of conspiracy to defraud.
The duo were behind Global Forestry Investments, which they launched in 2009, claiming it was an ethical scheme to plant and grow teak trees in Brazil.
Jailed: Junie Bowers, left, and Andrew Skeene cheated investors
Advertisements offered an annual yield of 12 per cent, but I warned at the time that Skeene was already behind a dodgy scheme that promised a 30 per cent return from property developments in Dubai.
Global Forestry Investments collapsed in 2014 and Skeene and Bowers were declared bankrupt. The Serious Fraud Office opened an investigation in 2015 and the two men were charged in 2019. SFO investigators found that almost no work was done on the Brazilian plantations. The pair had withdrawn about £750,000 in cash and were known to have spent a further £2million of investors’ money on luxury living and entertainment.
Skeene paid for his lavish wedding with investors’ savings and pension pots, and Bowers bought a Bentley Continental GT. Lisa Osofsky, head of the SFO, said: ‘The sentencing warns fraudsters that if they choose to play fast and loose with others’ hard-earned savings or pensions, we will pursue them and they will be held accountable for their crimes.’ The SFO is bringing seven more fraud cases to court by the end of the year, involving 18 defendants and more than £500million.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.