In a judgment issued today, the Supreme Court confirmed that Asset Land had been operating an unauthorised collective investment scheme (CIS) in the course of operating a land bank which involved the selling of small plots of land to investors at hugely inflated prices.
The Supreme Court found that, although investors were the legal owners of their individual plots of land, in reality the arrangements of the scheme were that investors did not have control over their investment and Asset Land was the central operator of the scheme.
Mark Steward, Director of Enforcement and Market Oversight at the FCA, said: "This decision should sound a clear warning to those selling dubious investments. We will do what it takes to shut down firms trying to exploit loopholes and take advantage of consumers.
"However, while this is an important victory from a legal point of view, we are acutely aware from experience that the risk to investors who deal with unauthorised firms is that most, if not all, investors are likely only to get a fraction of their money back.
"Consumers should therefore recognise that there are huge risks involved when investing with unauthorised businesses."
Investors were persuaded by Asset Land to buy individual plots of land for between £7,500 and £24,000 with the promise that the land would increase in value if the land got planning permission or was re-zoned.
The FSA won its case against Asset Land in the High Court in February 2013 when it found that David Banner-Eve, Start Cohen, Asset Land Investments plc and Asset L.I. Inc ran an illegal land bank by operating a CIS without authorisation. Asset Land and David-Banner Eve appealed to the Court of Appeal, which confirmed in April 2014 that Asset Land was operating a CIS.
Today’s judgment provides further protection to consumers by confirming that it is necessary to consider the substance of the arrangements put in place by the operator when assessing if they are operating a CIS. Operators of such schemes will not be able to benefit by providing purely illusory rights to investors. Operators need to ensure that investors have genuine control over their investments to avoid being found to have operated a CIS.
The High Court made an order in March 2013 against David Banner–Eve, Stuart Cohen, Asset Land Investments plc and Asset L.I. Inc to make a payment of £21 milllion as part repayment for investors. That order has been stayed pending the Supreme Court’s decision. Today’s decision opens the way for the interim payment order to be enforced, although we consider it unlikely that Asset Land and others will have the funds to pay the £21 million ordered by the High Court.
How to protect yourself
We strongly advise you to only deal with financial firms that are authorised by us, and check the Financial Services Register to ensure they are. It has information on firms and individuals that are, or have been, regulated by us.
If a firm does not appear on the Register but claims it does, contact our Consumer Helpline on 0800 111 6768.
There are more steps you should take to protect yourself from unauthorised firms.
You should also be aware that if you give money to an unauthorised firm, you will not be covered by the Financial Ombudsman Service or Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) if things go wrong.
More information on land banking can be found on the FCA website.
Report an unauthorised firm
If you think you have been approached by an unauthorised firm or contacted about a scam, you should contact our Consumer Helpline on 0800 111 6768. If you were offered, bought or sold shares, you can use our share fraud reporting form.
You can see more ways to report an unauthorised firm and find out what to do if you have been scammed.
Notes for editors
- On 1 April 2013 the FCA became responsible for the conduct supervision of all regulated financial firms and the prudential supervision of those not supervised by the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA)
- The FCA has an overarching strategic objective of ensuring the relevant markets function well. To support this it has three operational objectives: to secure an appropriate degree of protection for consumers, to protect and enhance the integrity of the UK financial system and to promote effective competition in the interests of consumers
- The decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Asset Land follows a similar judgment by the Court of Appeal against Capital Alternatives in February 2014, which also made clear that the FCA’s approach was sound
- Separately, the FCA (previously the FSA) has also taken action against a number of illegal land banks and unauthorised collective investments schemes including in the following cases: Benjamin Wilson (2014), Operation Cotton (2013), Option Four Group (2013), Elite Land Developments Ltd (2012), Plateau Development and James Maynard (2012), Hamilton Bentley (12 May 2010), Plott and EPI (2011), Stephen Watkins trading as Consolidated Land UK (2011)