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Exclusive: Unregulated British firm draws Asian investors

Reuters  |  LONDON/ABU DHABI 

By Carolyn Cohn, Stanley and Ridley

LONDON/(Reuters) - org, a company that describes itself as an education business and sponsors a Formula One team, is managing hundreds of thousands of dollars for Asian investors even though it is not licensed to engage in transactions, according to 17 people who say they have invested through the firm.

The 17 people, from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the UAE, told they had each given between $3,000 and $400,000 to to invest.

"I have doubled my investments," said Azmi Tumpang, a former from outside a gala dinner organised by on the sidelines of the Grand Prix in late November.

Most of the people said their money had been invested in U. S. blue-chip stocks and that they had made a profit. was unable to verify whether the share transactions took place.

is not on a publicly available list of companies authorised and regulated by Britain's regulator, the Conduct Authority (FCA), to buy and sell stocks or bonds for clients. Offering services without regulatory permission is a criminal offence in

org, which has an office in London's Canary Wharf, declined to comment on whether it acted as an firm.

The company signed up two years ago with the UK's official company register as a business, according to filings. The registrar of companies, Companies House, said it was preparing to strike off the firm on Jan. 23 because it had never filed accounts. If a company is struck off, it cannot continue to trade legally and its assets pass to the state.

UK-registered companies must by law be authorised and regulated by the FCA if they deal in securities such as shares and bonds for clients, even if the investors are outside Under FCA rules, this applies both to principals - parties investing on behalf of clients, and agents - firms including brokers that arrange for investments to take place.

The FCA declined to comment about whether was operating illegally.

The regulator has previously warned of the dangers of investing through firms it has not authorised, as no independent checks have been made on their businesses. It said it had received reports of more than 8,000 cases of unauthorised businesses in the last year.

On the home page of its website, says it is an education platform, providing "knowledge and skills". "We do not deal with securities and receive any benefits from products and service providers," it says.

However, elsewhere on its site, it also says it "helps members to manage and oversee their investments" and "provides self-directed investors with brokerage services".

INVESTOR ALERT

The last March placed on an investor alert list of "unregulated persons who, based on information received by MAS, may have been wrongly perceived as being licensed or authorised by MAS", its website says. The authority said investors should "exercise caution" when dealing with companies on the list.

also placed on a list of "unauthorised websites/products/companies/individuals" last year, according to its website.

The MAS and both declined to comment on and why they had placed it on alert lists.

declined to comment on the two regulators' warnings.

The company has been a sponsor of British Formula One team Williams since May 2016, and its logo appears on the Williams cars and team strips.

Williams declined to comment.

Most of the 17 people who spoke to said they had come into contact with through referrals from acquaintances, often via Six said they had received commissions from for referring others.

Five of the people detailed how they made investments. They said they deposited money into the of a third party, usually the person who referred them, who then transferred the funds to a account.

The investors said they accessed their account with a members-only area in org's website. Thirteen said they had withdrawn money regularly.

Tumpang said he had invested $30,000 through over the last two years. Mohamad Mohamed Nordin, another Malaysian investor, said he had invested $400,000.

Vietnamese investor Albert Anthony, a fashion business manager, provided a screenshot of his account page which showed he had invested $100,000. Shella Vinarevi, from Indonesia, said the minimum for was $3,000, which she had made.

(Additional reporting by in Zurich, Chayut Setboonsarng in Bangkok, Engen Tham in Shanghai, Fransiska Nangoy and Cindy Silviana in Jakarta, Praveen Menon in Kuala Lumpur, Alan Baldwin, Ritvik and Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London, Anshuman Daga in Singapore, Thomas Wilson in Tokyo, Mi Nguyen in Hanoi, and the Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Pravin Char)

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, January 10 2018. 21:22 IST
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