A pension scheme trustee has been suspended by The Pensions Regulator (TPR) after detectives launched a fraud investigation.
Gordon Craig is the subject of an investigation by Titan, the north west regional organised crime unit, in connection with his role as a trustee of Optimum Retirement Benefits Plan and other pension schemes.
TPR’s Determinations Panel decided that it is “overwhelmingly in the interests of scheme members and for the protection of scheme assets” for Craig to be suspended from acting as a trustee on any scheme while the police investigation continues.
It also decided that Dalriada should be appointed as an independent trustee to Optimum Retirement Benefits Plan to act in place of Craig and the other trustees to the scheme. This will protect other pension holders by preventing them from transferring their funds into the scheme.
From 2015, a total of £13.4m was transferred to Optimum Retirement Benefits Plan from the pension schemes of 288 people. In some cases members were cold called to persuade them to transfer their pensions.
After members transferred their pensions to the scheme, they received loans from companies linked to Craig. This was for as much as 75 percent of their funds and is a type of fraud known as pension liberation. Introducers were also paid tens of thousands of pounds in fees.
The remaining funds not paid out as loans to members were then invested in high-risk, illiquid investments including gem-mining and olive oil processing. Craig, an insolvency practitioner, paid himself nearly £500,000 from scheme funds in just 12 months.
The Determinations Panel noted that a number of people involved in the setting up or running of Optimum and linked schemes had been convicted of dishonesty offences. Martin Dowd and Robert Winstanley had been jailed for money laundering while a Richard Jones was convicted of the same crime and given a suspended prison sentence.
The panel was also concerned that the Optimum trustees had breached their duties by keeping poor records and having limited knowledge of how the pension scheme should have operated.
In its determination notice on the appointment of an independent trustee to the scheme, the panel said: “The permission of activity that appears to be pensions liberation strongly suggests that Craig, if he has the knowledge and skill of a pensions trustee, is not exercising it properly.
“Similarly, the highly illiquid and high-risk investments, several of which appear to have failed, is consistent only with Craig not having or exercising the necessary knowledge and skill.”
Optimum Financial Solutions, the sponsoring employer of Optimum Retirement Benefits Plan, was wound up in the public interest by the High Court in February following an Insolvency Service investigation.