Following a High Court order made on 13 July 2012, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) can now report that on 13 June 2012 it secured asset freezing orders against Asset L.I. Inc. (trading as Asset Land Worldwide), Equity Services (London) Limited, and Asset Land Investment PLC. The order also applies to three individuals who cannot be named for legal reasons.
The FSA has also obtained court orders to prevent any of the companies or individuals from selling plots of land on particular sites pending further investigation by the FSA and other agencies, and the conclusion of ongoing civil proceedings. These sites, upon which the firms are believed to have promoted and sold plots of land, are in Stansted, Harrogate, Lutterworth, Newbury, Liphook and South Godstone.
The FSA has taken this action because it suspects that these companies were running a land banking operation, an activity it believes amounts to an unauthorised collective investment scheme. The freezing order is part of a coordinated action involving West Berkshire Trading Standards and the Metropolitan and Essex police forces who executed an entry warrant at an address in Essex and arrested one individual.
Anyone who believes that they may have been contacted by a land banking operation or any other unauthorised financial services provider can call the FSA’s consumer helpline for guidance: 0845 606 1234. The FSA has produced a video on land banking, which can be viewed online, that explains how people can avoid being taken in by them.
The FSA does not regulate the sale of land but land banking often amounts to collective investment, something that requires FSA authorisation. None of the companies in question are authorised by the FSA.
Tracey McDermott, acting director of enforcement and financial crime at the FSA said: “This is a further example of the FSA working with other agencies and taking action to protect consumers from unauthorised land banking firms and the individuals behind them.
“Anybody investing in land should always have it independently valued to check its worth. Further, if you are ever sold land as an investment, and on the basis that someone else will manage it for you as part of a wider site, you should check that the firm is authorised by the FSA.”