Category Archives: PWC

The Beneficial Lies – Who Did They Really Benefit? #banks #bankers #HBOS #Lloyds

I should be used to offensive or thoughtless language from bankers and bonkers behaviour by their PR teams but I was genuinely shocked this morning at various articles in the press today.

Top of the list are the two articles in the Times where the CEO of Lloyds Banking Group, Antonio Horta-Osorio (AH-O) gives chapter and verse on an incredibly stressful period of his life as Lloyds boss. Knowing a lot about stress and how debilitating it is, I fully understand that it doesn’t matter who you are or what your personal circumstances are – inside your own bubble, you are still having a crisis.

However, the subject of people getting stressed because of banks is such a sensitive one, given how many thousands of bank clients are stressed to the point of being suicidal, I wonder why on earth the PR department of Lloyds Banking Group would make the Banks CEO such an easy and obvious target for outrage?

I imagine being the CEO of a major Bank is a very stressful job – which is why they are paid mega bucks. But there are huge differences between being stressed because of a well-paid job which, if you really can’t cope, you can resign from and being stressed because a Bank has destroyed your life, your business, your future, your reputation and, in some cases, your sanity – and you can’t resign from this situation – or check in to the Priory – or retire and live on a pension which, unfortunately for you, you no longer have because and unlike Mr AH-O, you’ve been asset stripped of everything.

There is no comparison between the stress Mr AH-O has suffered and the stress so many SME owners (and their family, staff and shareholders) have suffered. Therefore, while I would never suggest the stress Mr AH-O suffered was of no consequence or that mental illness isn’t a very serious issue that should be given a better platform, his two articles are unbelievably insensitive and offensive to the many who are still in a very dark place through no fault of their own and, in some cases, because of Lloyds Banking Group.

In the same way I have always been very grateful to many journalists who have helped expose the Reading fraud (Ian Fraser, Tom Harper, Andy Verity, James Hurley, Siobhan Kennedy and many others), I am also very grateful to Jonathan Ford, City Editor of the FT for his excellent article about HBOS Reading which has coincided with the Mr AH-O articles in the Times. The online article came out on Thursday and the six-page hard copy article came out in the FT today (7th). Comparing the two articles, there’s a very stark example of the inequality the Country is suffering. Suffering for Mr AH-O meant he was put off his tennis game, he didn’t enjoy his family holiday in Indonesia and he suffered a bad bought of insomnia. Speaking as a victim of HBOS Reading, I can confirm my own version of stress was years of insomnia, no holidays and 22 horrendously stressful eviction hearings. I did consider suicide but only in a wishful thinking sort of way as I had two teenage daughters to think of and a very strong husband who has pulled us all through these terrible years.

I realise none of what I (or many others) went through alters how Mr AH-O was feeling back in 2011 and I genuinely hope he is fully recovered. All the same, if I was him I would sack his PR team because they made him a sitting duck and will, I think, cause him more stress.

I would imagine one of the most stressful things about Mr AH-O’s job is knowing the truth about the Bank and managing that truth. The other disturbing articles I’ve read today – or indeed in the last few days – are about how much truth has been buried for the benefit of the public. An article in The Times yesterday reported how the Bank of England was economical with the truth during the financial crisis. Andy Haldane, the BoE chief economist at the time said:

“It is not always and everywhere the case that greater openness and transparency is a good thing. And that’s certainly true in my world.

“Had we been fully open and fully transparent about what was going on during the financial crisis, it would, let me tell you, have been a lot, lot worse. That would have been [like] shouting ‘fire’ in the theatre.

Mr Haldane is right about one thing, the crisis in 2008 was considerably worse than the public was allowed to know. I’m sure everyone at the BoE was trying to juggle so many flaming swords, they all wished they could book into the Priory. Trouble is, years later and as the real truth comes out, many people are wondering if the lies told (and that’s what they were) were for the benefit of the Country or told in order to cover up the fact the whole Country had been collectively mugged by the Banks? The fire in Mr Haldane’s theatre could and probably was full of bankers and what the BoE did was bring in the Fire Brigade – but was it for the public benefit? If it was, how comes the whole Country has been crippled by austerity so the NHS is on its knees, the police can’t even afford to investigate the epidemic of financial crime our banks still persist in using as every day conduct, young people can’t afford University fees or housing and hundreds of families are relying on food banks? Is that how we benefited?

In the same way Lloyds Banking Group has been economical with the truth of what it knew about HBOS Reading, Ross McEwan has been economical with the truth about RBS GRG division, the BoE, FSA, FCA, FRC, PRA have been economical with the truth about  almost everything to do with the Banks and their auditors – I fail to see how this has been beneficial to the Country? Maybe it would have been had the BoE and the regulator used the financial crash as a lesson learned and made sure banks really did clean up their acts? But they didn’t so we can expect a new financial melt down any time from now.

All we have years later is a lot of stressed people – bankers, bank customers, bank victims – and a struggling economy. So who has benefited from all these beneficial lies? And how much longer will the lies or spin of the truth continue? Clearly it’s in full flow today and my guess is Antonio Horta-Osorio is still stressed and, needless to say, so am I as too are so many victims of HBOS Reading, RBS/GRG, Lloyds BSU and other banks BSUs. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if stress levels in this country are at an all time high.

 

 

 

 

 

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Paragraphs redacted from P&N Turner submission to PCoBS 24/08/12

These are the paragraphs which were redacted by the Commission’s support staff.

  1. The example of bank misconduct we have lived through from 2003 (and continue to do so) is a microcosm of what happened to the whole sector. While we are not professionals in the financial sector, we have been forced to spend the last five years investigating aspects of the banking industry.
  2. Between 2002 – 2007 many SMEs whose accounts were ‘managed’ at HBOS Reading, were forced to use the services of a consultancy firm, Quayside Corporate Services (QS), or have their facilities withdrawn. QS had no affiliation to any trade body for consultants and employed the services of known embezzlers. The cost to the SMEs for these services were between £2000 and £30,000 per month + VAT and expenses. In many cases HBOS insisted QS personnel or its Director became directors of the SMEs and were given full fiduciary control.
  3. Once QS representatives had control of the SMEs, the Bank then ploughed millions of pounds into them. A lot of this money was used to facilitate luxury lifestyles for Bank employees, QS staff and the QS Director. Many of the companies subsequently failed and their assets were sold in pre-pack administration to new companies ultimately owned by The Sandstone Organisation (we are reliably informed as being controlled by the Bank) but run by the Director of QS and/or his staff.
  4. In late 2006 the Bank sent a team from Edinburgh to investigate the loan book at HBOS Reading. In early 2007 the manager responsible for most of the loan book was suspended and subsequently resigned. Between 2002 and 2008, the Bank caused at least 80 SMEs who had the involvement of QS personnel, to go into administration and/or liquidation. We are told the overall losses to the Bank because of events originating at HBOS Reading, runs to billions of pounds.
  5. In April 2007 HBOS closed the business accounts of P&NT who had also been made to use QS and had complained of serious irregularities between 2004-2006. They became suspicious of the Bank’s sudden and aggressive stance towards them and, because any investigation promised by the Bank had not actually been done, they commenced their own investigation into HBOS Reading. By August 2007 they had uncovered evidence of systemic fraud and identified other victims.
  6. In September 2007 P&NT wrote to the entire Board of HBOS setting out their findings to date. The Board rejected the allegations. Also in September 2007, P&NT tried to inform the FSA of the fraud. The FSA did not start any investigation until mid 2009. In November 2007 they reported the fraud to the Cambridge Police who were persuaded by HBOS not to investigate. In May 2010, Thames Valley Police (TVP) and SOCU initiated ‘Operation Hornet’ to investigate what happened at Reading having, by chance, come across the case at a routine meeting at the FSA. They were not asked to look into it.
  7. 9 people have been arrested thus far as a result of Operation Hornet and charges are expected in September 2012 for ‘Corruption’, ‘Money Laundering’ and ‘Conspiracy to Defraud.’ TVP have said HBOS Reading is potentially the biggest banking fraud in British History. The Bank (now Lloyds Banking Group (LBG)) still denies the Turner’s allegations and have refused to compensate any of the SMEs destroyed as victims of the fraud.
  8. HBOS/LBG have tried to evict the Turners from their family home 22 times between 2007 – after they started their investigation – and 2010. Legal costs for a senior Solicitor to attend 5 of the eviction hearings and to deal with matters relating to HBOS Reading, have been paid via a false account opened by the Bank in the name of the Turner’s business, Zenith Cafe Ltd (ZC). Neither the Solicitor nor his Firm were instructed in the eviction proceedings. Approximately £363,000 has been paid from the account to Denton Wilde Sapte (now SNR Denton). By August 2011, circa £250,000 in penalty interest and charges had been added to the account which then showed ZC owed over £600,000. LBG have said this is not a case of false accounting and the Turner’s should never have been sent details of the account. The FSA is still investigating the circumstances of this account over a year on.
  9. The Turner’s have spent the last 5 years investigating the fraud at Reading and other bank frauds. Despite the thousands of factual documents establishing irrefutable evidence of fraud originating at HBOS Reading they have supplied to the police and the FSA, it is a sad fact no authority has had the power or, it seems, the appetite, to make the Bank deal appropriately with the matter. LBG remains in denial and the victims have remained in limbo for years hoping the authorities would act.
  10. A Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards can only be of service to the Nation if the submissions and evidence it receives, is acted upon and not discarded because it comes from those who have individual and profound experiences of what has occurred over the last decade plus.
  11. From 2007, we have contacted (and in most cases submitted a lot of copy documentation to) nearly every agency and authority including the Treasury Select Committee, Constituent victims’ MPs, Government Departments, the Insolvency Service, the FRC, the CIB, HMRC, the senior Executives of the three Banks involved, the Financial Ombudsman Service, the FSA, the SFO, 3 police forces, two Prime Ministers and two Chancellors. Apart from Thames Valley Police (TVP) and specifically the ‘Operation Hornet’ Team, all have failed us with vigour.
  12. For example, we were recently told by a senior enforcement officer at the FSA, the Final Notice Public Censure of BoS, published on 9 March 2012, could have been published two years earlier but for the difficulty the FSA had getting the Bank to agree to it because of FSMA 2000 provisions.
  13. In an e-mail of 9th March 2012, Hector Sants personally advised us the 6 redacted paragraphs in the BoS Public Censure Notice, relate to HBOS Reading. Obviously we have not read the paragraphs and TVP have confirmed they have not read them either, though they were redacted to protect their investigation. The Bank has read them yet it continues to deny any malpractice at HBOS Reading over 5 years after it reported it as a ‘control issue’ to the FSA in ‘early 2007’ (see FSA ‘brief’ to TSC, March 2010).
  14. As a very serious example of how professional standards have reached rock bottom, we would ask the Commission how senior bankers: who are fully aware of the details of the fraud at Reading; who have read the redacted paragraphs in the FSA Public Censure; who have no doubt read Hansard on the debate about HBOS Reading of June 2009; and, most importantly, have clear evidence of how the billions of pounds the Bank lost because of the practices utilised in the HBOS Reading debacle, are able to repeatedly deny the fraud and therefore not compensate but persecute its customers?
  15. We give as an example of this, UKFI which, although it is not a bank per se, it was charged with protecting the interests of the public’s share in two of our biggest banks.
  16. We can confirm that, when we attempted to approach UKFI in 2009 to make them aware of the serious criminal activity in HBOS, which has since resulted in a 2 year major criminal investigation which could potentially damage the reputation of Lloyds Banking Group, we met with a number of hurdles – not least that UKFI has no contact phone number in the public domain.
  17. After a series of e-mails to the PR Company (who were very polite but who would not give us contact details for John Kingman or Glen Moreno) we eventually worked out the e-mail addresses and sent the information, which was in the form of a copy of a letter to Eric Daniels detailing the Reading fraud.
  18. Our letter, which gave explicit detail of fraud and corruption in a then bailed out bank, was ignored.
  19. In 2010 we attempted again to give information to UKFI.
  20. Again it was impossible to make direct contact and we were told (politely) by their PR company, it is because “UKFI do not have time to deal with the general public.”
  21. We are not surprised they have little time for the public as the senior executives of UKFI appear to feature very heavily in any number of bank hospitality situations. We use one of many links as an example: http://www.ukfi.co.uk/images/dynamicImages/Hospitality%20table%20April%2010-%20Mar%2011.pdf
  22. We understand ‘hospitality’ is now accepted as entirely normal in business. However, the millions of people who were severely affected by the events at RBS, HBOS and its parent Lloyds Banking Group, may quite rightly consider the remit of UKFI is to dine well – courtesy of the banking industry – while ensuring they have little or no contact with the shareholders they represent.
  23. We eventually wrote to Sir David Cooksey and Robin Budenberg copying them in on a letter to Sir Win Bischoff. We made the point a Parliamentary Authority Member had advised us to do this.
  24. The reply we got from a UKFI representative informed us: ”We would direct you to note our Framework document which governs the relationship between UKFI and HM Treasury as sole shareholder of investee companies. This document clearly sets out the requirement of the independence of the Boards of the banks; in particular, that UKFI ‘will manage the investments on a commercial basis and will not intervene in day to day management decisions of the investee companies’… UKFI operates as an active and engaged shareholder. We have no regulatory powers, and no power to demand any information from the banks which would not be usually be provided in discharging our duties…As you may have read in our Annual report and accounts, our remit is to manage the investments to create and protect value for the taxpayer and to devise and execute a strategy for the disposing of investments……
  25. UKFI, as part of their remit to protect value for the tax payer, did not feel a massive fraud in a bank the public bailed out, was of any interest to the organisation working on behalf of the public.
  26. Similarly, the BBA told us in 2009 that, if what we were saying was true, it was very worrying but they could do nothing about it.
  27. The FSA, when we first contacted them in 2007, would not give us anything other than a generic e-mail address to send sensitive and personal information of many of the victims of HBOS Reading – which, understandably, we would not and could not do.
  28. The FSA did not get involved in any investigation regarding HBOS until April 2009 and just before the Debate in Westminster on the Reading
  29. We have spoken to many people in the banking profession since we started investigating HBOS Reading and many of them have confirmed to us they work under a regime of fear where missing targets would severely affect the bonus structure which, many of the public do not realise, goes right through the banking system and is not limited to senior executives and traders.
  30. For example and notwithstanding the Reading fraud, HBOS informed us in 2004 they were sending an accountant to review our figures. They did not inform us this would cost us over £1000 for a one hour visit. Neither did they advise us before deducting this amount from our account.
  31. Another example is how the banks’ lawyers charged us £3000 for a standard debenture document while our own lawyers charged £270.
  32. In the case of the Reading victims, all of whom were/are Company directors, the losses to their businesses and to themselves, far exceeds £150,000.
  33. In our case, corporate governance has allowed an internal fraud to progress to a major police operation and FSA investigation because no one at Board level would deal with the matter appropriately, in either HBOS or LBG.. Or so it would seem given the repeated denials for 5 years that anything was wrong.
  34. We have pointed out to the various Boards under various stewardships (Andy Hornby, Eric Daniels, Antonio Horta-Osorio) and on various occasions, the potential damage to the reputation of the Bank because of the scandalous proportions of the HBOS Reading fraud, should have been curtailed and minimised by proper adherence to the Law and sensible damage limitation.
  35. We have no doubt the Bank executives considered it impossible we, as customers, would ever have progressed the investigation of the fraud this far. But that is no excuse for their lack of corporate governance which: a) allowed such a huge fraud to be perpetrated against the Banks’ clients and its shareholders in the first instance and; b) exposed an extreme lack of corporate governance which would put the good name of the Bank at risk and further penalise the victims of an internal bank fraud, by attempting to cover it up rather than exercise proper management, governance and damage limitation.
  36. We advise the Commission, a former HBOS Executive has confirmed to Paul Moore that, in the over £1 billion Reading fraud, only a minority of the Board were “in the know” in 2007 while the others were told HBOS Reading was a minimal problem concerning amounts up to £49M and it had been dealt with.
  37. Clearly this was a case of executive and non executive directors being kept “in the dark” as to the true events concerning the Bank’s risks. Again we would suggest non executives, because of their other commitments, are unlikely to seriously challenge reports from executive directors or committees.
  38. It would be wrong for us to go into any great detail of how we feel the internal audits and controls at HBOS between 2002 and 2007 were a total misrepresentation of the true facts, as we would go into territory that could be harmful to Operation Hornet. However, there is absolutely no doubt that, overall, HBOS and particularly Bank of Scotland had, by 2004/5, become the ‘basket case’ of banking. This is not a term we invented but a term we have heard used by many people in the banking sector.
  39. It could (reasonably) be said we are not the biggest fans of the FSA. However, we can only conclude that, in the case of HBOS, the information given to the FSA with regard to internal audit and control between 2002 and 2007, was, in many instances, a work of fiction – the Arrow Reports.
  40. This was clearly evidenced in 2010 when the FSA sent the TSC a document detailing their version of events originating at Reading and based on a ‘control issue’ reported to the FSA in ‘early 2007’. It was fortunate the TSC copied the ‘brief’ to us so we were able to amend the document with the true facts.
  41. On a specific note and given it does not fall within the remit of Operation Hornet, we would draw to the Commission’s attention the false account HBOS set up in the name of our Company, Zenith Cafe Ltd., to pay the Bank’s legal expenses relating to HBOS Reading. These fees were nothing to do with Zenith.
  42. The account was opened in March 2008 and we were not aware of it until we started to receive interest statements from January 2010 and letters advising a ‘£30 Excess Overdraft fee’ had been added and would we bring the account into line with its facility. In June 2011 and after two requests from the Company’s Accountant, we received all the historical statements which itemised debits and the interest and charges applied. We believe they were sent by a whistleblower and the Bank have since confirmed we were not supposed to have sight of this documentation.
  43. The bank have said this is an ‘internal account’ to keep track of the costs relating to Reading and they never intended to ask us, as Directors, for the money back. We already had letters asking for the money.
  44. Additional to the £372,000 for debits made from the account, predominantly for fees to Denton Wilde Sapte (now SR Denton), the Bank have added approximately £250,000 in penalty fees and interest thus eliminating the possibility this was an internal ‘managers obligation account.’
  45. The account clearly shows a £372,000 debt of the bank as also being a £600,000 debt of our company, so a credit of the Bank. Clearly it is false accounting which we have reported to the FSA and the police.
  46. The FSA, after one year of investigation, say they have not got to the bottom of the matter. We bring it to the Commission’s attention because we do not consider it is at all likely this account is in isolation.
  47. As external whistleblowers, we would warn anyone pondering this route to consider carefully what they are doing before they start. In 2007 when we first uncovered the Reading fraud, we believed it would be quickly remedied for the victims by reporting the matter to the Board of the Bank. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
  48. As noted in para. 13 above, we have, since 2007, contacted every agency and authority possible alerting them first to the fraud and secondly, to the untenable consequences for the victims.
  49. Five years on, the situation remains the same for the victims. The Bank remains in denial despite a two year criminal investigation; we have undergone 22 eviction hearings in 3 years in an attempt by the Bank to silence us and which the Bank paid its additional legal costs via a false account in the name of our company (the actual legal costs were added to our mortgage) and; we continue to live like paupers.
  50. Finally on this aspect, we have personally seen some extraordinary fantasy accounting and conclusions from the Big 4 auditors in the HBOS Reading scenario, including serious breaches of accountancy standards and breaches of the Law. We are not at liberty to evidence these breaches to the Commission at the present time but we certainly will be able to when Operation Hornet is concluded.
  51. In June 2011 we prepared a dossier establishing a ‘time line’ of the conduct of the FSA in relation to the HBOS Reading fraud. This document was copied to the Treasury Select Committee and we would be happy to submit the same to the Commission, if requested. It is a detailed example of the conduct of the FSA in relation to established criminal activity in a bank. Over a year later, nothing has changed for the victims of HBOS Reading and the FSA has taken no enforcement action against the individuals at any level and who enabled the Reading fraud to happen.
  52. At all costs banks will not admit any fault or accept any responsibility even where the evidence clearly promotes a different approach. We cannot calculate how much money HBOS and subsequently LBG have spent defending their position regarding HBOS Reading but almost certainly, the end tariff will cost much more than it would have cost had the Bank dealt appropriately with the matter back in 2007.
  53. We use this question to highlight all we have said in our document and, in order to give the Commission perhaps the most blatant example of just how low professional standards have gone in banking, we use the Farepak debacle as an example.
  54. Our interest in this case dates back some time as the HBOS employees tasked with the Farepak problem, are the same team charged with dealing with the SMEs whose accounts were held at Reading and whose businesses had Quayside Corporate Services imposed upon them.
  55. We have read some of the transcripts of the Farepak trial (May to June 2012). The case against the Directors of EHR was brought by the Secretary of State. It claimed those directors were responsible for 133,000 people on low incomes unwarrantedly losing money they had saved for Christmas vouchers.
  56. What the case actually exposed was how the HBOS team used ‘hard nose tactics’ to block any solution the Directors of EHR proposed in their attempts to save the depositor money and keep Farepak trading.
  57. We don’t intend to go into great detail and we do not believe the Farepak injustice is a closed book.
  58. EHR requested additional funding of £5M in April 2006 to trade the company out of a problem caused by the demise of its main voucher supplier. In its attempts to source this shortfall, which the Bank would not facilitate, EHR was made to spend well over a million in fees to accountancy firms.
  59. HBOS, who refused to ring fence any of the savers’ money already deposited, received a further, circa £18M between April and October 2006 from the Farepak savers. This cashflow was used by the Bank to reduce EHR’s borrowings and allowed the business to carry on trading.
  60. The EHR Directors pursued at least 7 different avenues to secure the funding during this period, none of which were acceptable to the Bank and the Company was put into a pre-pack administration at the beginning of October 2006 causing the savers to lose all their money.
  61. As a PR exercise, HBOS initially put £2M into the ‘Unfairpak’ campaign and more recently they have added an additional £8M. We believe the winding up of the Business will finally cost circa £9M.
  62. Therefore a total of at least £10M has been paid in fees by a business that was looking for £5M additional funding; the whole exercise has cost HBOS itself £10M plus a serious loss of reputation; 133,000 people lost a net total of approximately £25M of the £37M they thought they had saved to ensure their families had a good Christmas plus they suffered all the anxiety caused by this conduct.
  63. A team of 3 or 4 people under the ultimate leadership of Peter Cummings, who was CEO of Bank of Scotland in 2006, brought about this shameful situation. We would make the point; in the transcript, one of the 4 describes his job as being part of the ‘High Risk’ team in 2006.
  64. When we dealt with the same team of people in 2007, their title was ‘Impaired Assets – Structured.’ The difference between High Risk and Impaired Assets is very clear. High Risk may look at resolving a situation by the addition of extra funding. Impaired Assets has a remit which does not include the possibility of any additional funding whatsoever and almost always, unless the clients themselves have a financial resolution, has an insolvency outcome.
  65. The Bank’s position and conduct is laid out very clearly in the transcripts of the case, days 11, 12 and 13. We believe it begs a question of whether HBOS ever intended to find a solvent solution for Farepak or whether the team from HBOS was, in fact, the ‘Impaired Assets’ team who always intended to put Farepak in Administration and simply allowed the directors of EHR to go through the process of finding a resolution in order for the Bank to get in all the savers’ money?
  66. Having met this ‘team’ and having seen how the SMEs associated to HBOS Reading were dealt with by this team, we suggest there was never any intention of saving Farepak. And while we fully appreciate a bank has every right not to extend further credit to a customer (business or individual), we would point out to the Commission that, simultaneous to the Bank’s refusal to assist Farepak with further, minimal funding, it was ploughing tens of millions of pounds into a business with almost no turnover and which had been put under the control of the Bank via its consultants.
  67. In July this year we sent information to a representative of Unfairpak who attended a meeting with Dr. Vince Cable MP after the Farepak trial had concluded and which placed no blame on the Directors of EHR. Our purpose was to evidence the blatant ‘double standards’ the Bank was applying to businesses at the time of the Farepak demise. Following is an extract from our e-mail and the figures are factual:          “..The other thing we think you should know is that contemporaneously to EHR going into liquidation for the lack of £3M to £5M, BoS was ploughing millions of pounds into a company called Corporate Jet Services (CJS). Looking at their accounts and giving a rough calculation, we can see the Bank allowed CJS to increase its borrowings by £19.671 million between April and September 2006 and the turn over for the same period in the cash book was £497,770 of which just over £125,000 was a repayment of VAT from HMRC.
  68. The Bank would say of course, it is down to their discretion how much money they give companies. However, it should be noted the Bank owned all the shares in Corporate Jet Services and despite the tens of millions of pounds they put in to the Company, it went into Administrative Receivership on 26th September 2007 owing the Bank £113M, according to PwC’s Administrator’s Report. Post the appointment of PwC, the Bank allowed the Company to pay £26, 244,708.73 to one subsidiary which was then sold to the now ex directors of the company for £1.00; £2,407,314.31 to another subsidiary that was also sold to the ex Directors for £1.00 and also £333,912.40 to PwC, who had already received £160, 054.84 a month before the Company went down.
  69. In total, the Directors of the Company (one of whom is a main suspect in the Reading case) paid £7.00 and a promise to acquire all the assets of CJS leaving the Bank with a massive debt which, had they taken action in May 2007 when they first brought in PwC to produce a report on the viability of CJS, the amount would have been reduced by at least £6 million.
  70. Additionally, this company had a £800,000 agreed overdraft facility that should have been renewed on 27th November 2003 but wasn’t and by the end of April 2006 the Company had an unauthorised OD of £28.6M according to the accounts for the year ending 31st December 2004 filed at Companies House and which were signed off in June 2006.
  71. Some additional points to be noted from the above comparative scenario between CJS and Farepak. The person dealing with both situations for the Bank, was the same. The PwC person involved in both matters was also the same. The PwC person not only advised the Bank regarding the failed rescue packages in the Farepak debacle, he was also the Bank appointed Administrative Receiver of EHR.
  72. An editorial note concerning the above e-mail extract. It should be noted the sale of the CJS subsidiary Companies to the ex Officers of CJS for £7 and a promise, was completed immediately prior to the Company being placed in Administrative Receivership on 26th September 2007. The first payment stated above as being made by the Bank to one subsidiary Company for £26+M, was made on 27th September 2007 and the payment to a second and different subsidiary also sold on 26th September, was made on 9th October 2007. Both payments post date the appointment of PwC.
  73. We are now into our 9th year since we unwittingly became the victims of the HBOS Reading scandal. Even if we one day get to the end of it and receive the compensation we are undoubtedly due, no one can give us or our families back the 9 years we have lost.
  74. Similarly, no one can give back the Farepak victims’ Christmas of 2006. These are just two scandalous situations out of many caused by bad banking practice. The most worrying thing is – no one has done anything to curtail this sort of behaviour and it continues.

HBOS – The Long Road To The Truth SMEs Already Knew

I am of course delighted that yet another report is out about why HBOS failed and this time from the Treasury Committee. But I am also devastated to realise that 9 years after Paul and I started our investigation into HBOS; 8 years after we started writing letters and reports to the TSC; 8 years after journalist Ian Fraser and others published some of the unwholesome truths about HBOS and; 11 years after Paul Moore blew the whistle on the risks HBOS was taking, we now have yet another report arriving at the same conclusions we arrived at years ago re HBOS and the regulators. How can it be that such blatant misconduct has taken so long to identify?

As the truth becomes more and more apparent to the public, I can’t help feeling my family and many others would not have lived through 9 years of stress, anxiety and poverty had the authorities been prepared to listen to us when we first reported HBOS to them. Not just us and not just regarding HBOS but the numerous business owners who repeatedly report misconduct in our banks but whose views and allegations are not considered by any authority as we are not deemed to be ‘professionals’ with regard to the financial sector. Meanwhile the views and comments of bankers and other so called ‘professionals’ are given full consideration and endless hearings. I have been asking for a meeting with Mr Tyrie and the TSC for years – originally to give them information about HBOS and more recently to expose the collective issues of SME Alliance members.

I was disappointed again last week to hear Andrew Bailey, the new head of the FCA, pooh pooh SME Alliance to Andrew Tyrie – and, of course, we will not get a chance to reply except by letter. So while I’m really pleased the TSC is taking a more pro-active approach to miscreant banks and ineffective regulators, I really hope that in the future the voices from the SME sector are listened to earlier because we are on the front line and when it takes 9 years to expose the truth, we are the ones who suffer the consequences.

Here’s an extract from a letter to Andrew Tyrie and the TSC dated 27th February 2014 (the main part of the letter was about HBOS Reading so it can’t be published – yet).:

…..We bring this to your attention because this seems to be the crux of the problem between banks and SMEs:

There is no appetite from the authorities to prosecute serious criminality in the financial sector and because, it would seem, the FCA Objective of “Market Confidence” overrides all the other Objectives and Principles and even the Common Law. The Banks are fully aware of this and see no reason to stop the rape and pillage of SMEs because it is so highly lucrative for them.

The endless and substantial fines levied by the FSA/FCA against the big banks, are totally ineffectual in curtailing criminal activities or misconduct. How could these fines possibly work when no one is held responsible and the shareholders pick up the bill? We would ask how, in a democratic country, a bank can break the law by laundering money for drug cartels and yet no one is to blame? Do the drug cartels pick up the phone to an anonymous voice at a call centre specifically in place for money laundering – Press 1 for drug money, 2 for tax evasion, 3 for arms deals? Or do real people in the banks negotiate these deals? As we understand it, money laundering is considered to be a very serious crime – unless, apparently, you are a banker. And if Banks can override the law of the land so successfully, what hope is there that the authorities will step in to protect small businesses? And we have seen startling evidence where HBOS have been able to manipulate the justice system to keep the Bank and its employees out of criminal trials.

We have asked, on more than one occasion, for a meeting with you Mr Tyrie. The evidence we hold (which is not all with the police or the FCA – mostly because they do not want it under their remits) is, as our friend Mr Ken Olisa has described it, a time bomb waiting to go off. And even we, who are truly disgusted by the behaviour of some senior bankers, feel we should share the evidence with someone in authority. Not least because our 6+ years of work should be used to stop financial institutions being able to set up situations like HBOS Reading or GRG. Sub judice cannot last forever. Neither can the victims of these devastating crimes against small businesses be asked to rely on authorities who repeatedly do nothing to remedy the situation. And we believe pressure should be put on both Lloyds and RBS to rectify their bad treatment of SMEs before the true facts surrounding HBOS / Lloyds Banking Group are fully exposed as a last resort. ……

..Surely the time has come when the TSC has to listen to the voices of those business owners affected. We have watched the endless TSC/PCoBS interviews with bankers like Lord Stevenson, whose performances and explanations, quite frankly, beggar belief. But we never hear the TSC interview people from the other side of the fence. We never even hear about this being done ‘in camera.’

We can assure you the FCA has no interest in talking to individuals outside of the sector; the FOS is ineffectual when it comes to SMEs and; the police take little notice of reports of criminal conduct by banks if the report comes from individual business owners. In our case, when we made allegations of criminality at HBOS to the Cambridge police in 2007, we were told we were simply ‘”collateral damage” and only the Bank could request an investigation. The Bank, of course, did not want an investigation and insisted nothing criminal had occurred. Worse still, there is nothing the banks like more than to fight allegations against them by SMEs in the Civil Courts, where their highly paid legal teams rip business owners to shreds.

So who can SME owners report to Sir? As things stand, no one. And where can they get justice? No where. Our only hope is the Court of Public Opinion – and even that is becoming an increasingly lame option because most newspaper editors are unhappy to publish anything but the most generic of banking misdemeanour’s like PPI or IRSA. They need the advertising revenues and financial support from banks and, in many cases, the interests (some might say contamination) of executives who are board members of both banks and media groups, are instrumental in blocking adverse publicity.

What we need, without doubt, is a reliable and official method of communication between business owners and Government agencies like the FCA and the TSC. This must include people with first hand knowledge of serious malpractice by banks and/or bankers. We don’t suggest every business owner with a gripe against a bank should have access to the TSC. But where major frauds are perpetrated against multiple SMEs, we believe the TSC should be willing to listen to business owners and, further more, the banks should know the TSC will listen”……

Much has been said previously about giving the FCA more powers (to do what I wonder?) – personally I would like to see the TSC have more powers to act on all the information supplied to them. Because while I’m sure the great and the good dread being grilled by the TSC, ultimately they know little will come of it and that is a terrible waste of resource, time and opportunity. The TSC should be able to take action on their findings. Alternatively and as this latest report suggests, a completely separate agency should deal with enforcement of financial regulations. Either way someone should be able to deal more effectively than the FCA with financial misconduct and/or economic crime and it should be done in a timely manner – because 9 years is a long time to wait for justice. Not that we’ve seen much justice yet.

One last thought – we’ve recently had the FCA report into HBOS, the Andrew Green QC report into the FSA’s conduct in relation to HBOS and now the Treasury Committee report on Why HBOS failed – and that’s on top of the Bank of Scotland Censure report and the PCoBS report. We have all these reports identifying failure, negligence, incompetence and whole host of other issues  – so what happens next? Anything? Will we start to see bankers really held to account – will we see bankers prosecuted where appropriate?

Or will Mr Bailey’s comments in the Telegraph 14th December 2012 suggesting we can’t apply ordinary law to bankers, still hold fast:

“…would be a very destabilising issue. It’s another version of too important to fail. Because of the confidence issue with banks, a major criminal indictment, which we haven’t seen and I’m not saying we are going to see… this is not an ordinary criminal indictment.” http://www.ianfraser.org/dear-mr-cameron-if-bankers-are-above-the-law-we-need-an-urgent-explanation/

When justice is delayed too long the Devil is dancing.

It’s very hard to write a rational, unemotional blog about the state of our financial system when I’ve just been to see a friend, who is a victim of bank fraud, who has been waiting for justice for over 10 years, and who is now dying of terminal cancer. But I’m going to try because too many people now are dying without ever seeing justice done. Perhaps just as bad, those they leave behind see little benefit to justice in the future because no amount of money or even bankers being jailed, can never bring back someone you love. There are some things money can’t buy.

I should add straight away that I’m not saying a bank caused my friend’s cancer – it didn’t. But years of stress, anguish, eviction hearings and trying to make ends meet will not have helped the situation. I’m not a doctor but it seems logical to me that the energy and willpower you need to try and fight of an evil disease like cancer and which should be your primary concern, is not aided when you have bailiffs at the door and a banks top lawyers trying to grind your chances of justice into the ground with legal technicalities and the ever promoted ‘costs’ threat.

That is a reality. When victims of bank misconduct are put with their backs against the wall, no one in authority says “hang on a minute, there’s a reason they can’t pay their Council tax or their bills”, they just go for the throat – which is why we have obscene programmes like ‘Can’t Pay We’ll Take It Away.” Bankers on the other hand, faced with serious allegations that may see them facing fines or, God forbid, criminal charges, can rely on their fail safe – money. Shareholders money (in some cases tax payers money) to bail them out of difficult situations.

It’s only a month since the wife of one of the SME Alliance members died of a heart attack – and in that case I suspect the conduct of a bank was the root cause. When that happened it reminded me of an article I found years ago which was written as a result of research by Cambridge University academics, entitled “Can a Bank Crisis Break Your Heart?”: http://www.cam.ac.uk/news/can-a-bank-crisis-break-your-heart

Obviously a bank crisis and I would add bank policy, can break your heart but business, economic climate and political policy doesn’t seem very interested in the human cost of unethical or even criminal bankers conduct. I say bankers because, as always, I would remind everyone that despite legal terminology, a ‘bank’ is the sum of the people who run it. So I’m feeling pretty heart broken even although I’m not the person dying. Neither am I going to be the person most affected by living without my friend. Her husband and children are and even her parents (who can bear the thought of burying their child?).

Anyway, all this has just hammered me. I’ve found it hard to function in the last few days thinking my friend has a couple of weeks to live and there is no way I can do anything about it or even guarantee justice will be served when she’s gone.

I know it’s very non PC of me to talk about human tragedy and banking in the same breath – but tough. It’s about time we stopped pussy footing around what is happening. Above all else, I believe that as a society we should not let the interests of economics or globalisation over take our ability or even our wish to be decent human beings. Sadly, some people, whether because they are genuinely socio-paths or whether their terms of employment push them into that position, are losing site of their responsibilities as human beings.

Maybe they just don’t realise the consequences of their actions? Certainly many bankers and regulators seem willing to turn a blind eye to the reality of bad banking conduct – and this cavalier attitude to individuals is, ironically, doing good banking a huge disservice. Whereas it seemed totally unreasonable up until 2008 to suggest bankers were anything other than professional people and an essential part of society, in general the opposite applies now and the collective name for bankers is often derogatory regardless of whether they are perfectly good people or one of the acknowledged egomaniacs who have hit the headlines in recent years. No one bats an eye to “yet another banking scandal.” We have even become immune to them – right up to the moment they affect us personally. Right up to the moment a bank deliberately targets our business or repossesses our house. Right up to the moment we realise there is no defence against this immoral conduct.

I have been fighting for justice since 2007. I thought it would be easy and that, having identified a massive bank fraud, I could write to senior management of the bank concerned and they would be keen to investigate the matter and make sure any victims of the fraud were compensated and the villains persecuted. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Since then successive senior managements have gone out of their way to bury the fraud I identified and even persecute the victims – presumably in the belief attack is the best defence. But why would you attack your own clients for things your own staff did? I don’t know why but I do know at Board level that has been the banks’ preferred choice.

Nine years on I am still waiting for justice – and so is my friend. Except now justice will come too late. When she dies and she knows she will very soon, she will be the sixth victim to have died without seeing justice for this particular bank fraud.

Last summer one of my colleagues at SME Alliance and I went to a meeting with Head Counsel and Head of Litigation for a major bank. When our conversation turned to Private Criminal Prosecutions, the Head of Litigation became quite outraged and he said that we should realise that when we make criminal allegations we are ruining people’s lives. Even now I remain confused by this comment – does he seriously not realise how many lives his bank is ruining? Not just ruining lives but taking lives? Clearly the man was capable of having empathy towards others because he seemed genuinely concerned we would consider criminal proceedings against bankers. So how comes this same bank is notorious for its lack of empathy to its customers? Are they considered as a different species? Is this why the good old personal bank manager had to go – because he did empathise with his clients? Maybe he even liked them so the idea of selling them  ‘products of mass destruction’ would have have been distasteful to him?

In terms of banking reform I believe we are walking backwards. No one is properly regulating banks and no one is stopping the merry-go-round of greed and corruption which remains rife in our financial sector. On the other side of the fence, public anger is not dissipating and when one person dies one hundred people dig their heels in harder and want to see justice done. In the same way you can only beat a dog so many times before it will bite you, you can only break so many hearts before the consequences become equally dire.

I wish the senior management of banks would wake up to this fact. Justice has a way of being done despite all attempts to stop it and that includes the apparently well known judicial phrase “might over right.”

It is fortunate my friend is deeply religious and she has no doubt she will be going to a better place – neither do I doubt it, she is a good and kind person. The one sure thing we know about life is we we all leave it one day and the departure lounge for that journey doesn’t have a first class section or private jets – just a completely level playing field or “right over might.”

Guest Blog – A Letter to Shareholders in Lloyds Banking Group plc

25th March 2015

Dear Fellow Shareholder

Corporate Jet Services Limited/Corporate Jet Realisations Limited (in Liquidation) (“CJR”)

Sycamore Limited is a small shareholder, previously in Halifax Bank of Scotland plc (“HBOS”), and now in Lloyds Banking Group plc (“Lloyds”). We urge you to join us in demanding an agenda item at the next available General Meeting to give an account of the CJR affair and to explain what the current board will now do to make good the damage to shareholders’ interests past and present which it has caused.

That damage was firstly the loss of some £150 million of shareholders’ money by what it is extremely difficult to see as other than a fraud which has never been explained; followed by a toxic culture of denial and cover up which has persisted ever since. Lloyds knows the facts but it is not telling. You may have read something about Corporate Jet Services in the press or on the internet but Lloyds has maintained a lofty silence. We have written to our Chairman, Lord Blackwell several times but he does not reply and he brushed aside a shareholder’s question at the last AGM.

If we want our bank to be soundly profitable, to deal fairly with its customers, to promote honest business practice and to pay maintainable dividends – in short to make a clean break with the past some truth and reconciliation is required. The bank must also pursue those responsible for CJR and who have benefitted from it within and beyond the Bank, for restitution of the millions they have misappropriated.

The history of CJR was short but disastrous for shareholders. In 2003 HBOS set up what was effectively a secret subsidiary company, lent it £12.8 million secured on executive jets worth about £8 million and equity capital of £2,500; and proceeded to pump money through it until it was shut down in September 2007 by PricewaterhouseCoopers as Administrative Receivers at a cost to the Bank’s shareholders of about £150million. That company was CJR and it banked with the High Risk Unit in Reading. Tellingly, the Bank paid off all third party creditors and sold the good bits of CJR to the management team for a song, presumably as a thank you for their skillful services rendered. After 2004 by which time it owed the bank
£28 million CJR produced no statutory financial statements, in blatant breach of Company Law, so there is no public record at all of where most of the money went. Lloyds will not even tell the Liquidator of CJR and has threatened us with legal action if we support him in his requirement for that information. Certainly it appears that much of the money went to the Isle of Man and some was used to fund the purchase of two luxury motor yachts. The Bank’s official line, in so far as it has one, maintained by Lloyds to this day, was that CJR was the result of some overenthusiastic lending by a manager in the High Risk Unit in Reading
and that none of the lost money is recoverable. Admittedly, HBOS probably did regard £150 million of shareholders’ money as peanuts. It raised £4billion in a rights issue shortly afterwards in 2008 and secretly borrowed £25 billion from the taxpayer to keep itself afloat. Nobody felt that needed mentioning to the shareholders of Lloyds when they voted on the merger in 2009, so why would they mention a mere £150 million?

We believe that the CJR affair goes to the heart of the HBOS and now Lloyds banking culture. You may think that you deserve an explanation. Lloyds does not. Nor does the public shareholder, UK Financial Investments, which still holds nearly 25% of Lloyds and could singlehandedly get CJR on the agenda, but has told us that the matter has nothing to do with them. Neither it seems do the authorities think that you deserve an explanation. In fact it appears that everybody involved with Lloyds has long known about CJR except the ordinary shareholders. We believe that shareholders are entitled to a full explanation, a heartfelt
apology, action to recover the money, and real cultural change.

The key questions are;
1 Where has the money gone?;
2 Who approved the CJR “lending”?;
3 Who else knew about it?;
4 Who has benefitted from that money?;
5 Will Lloyds now take disciplinary action against those directors and employees responsible for CJR and the cover up?;
6 Will Lloyds now pursue for compensation the individuals responsible, whether inside or outside the Bank, without fear or favour?

Please send an email and/or write as follows in your registered name and address as a shareholder to:
Malcolm.Wood@lloydsbanking.com
Malcolm Wood, Group Company Secretary,
Lloyds Banking Group plc
25 Gresham Street
London EC2V 7HN

I/we as a shareholder in Lloyds Banking Group plc (“LBG”) request that the following be
included as an agenda item at the next available General Meeting of the Company, being a
matter which ought to be explained in the interests of the shareholders:

“An explanation of the Company’s involvement in the affairs of Corporate Jet Realisations
Limited (in Liquidation) Company number 04521080”
I/we hold (number of shares registered in your name) shares [this is optional but preferable – see note (i) below]
Registered Name of shareholder:………………………………………..

PLEASE NOTE that according to the Company Secretary:
(i) To be accepted, the request must be submitted by members holding at least 5% of the issued share capital of Lloyds Banking Group plc or by at least 100 members holding at least 1,000 shares each (£100 worth of 10p nominal value shares).
(ii) the request must be received at least six weeks before the AGM or, if later, by the time the notice of the AGM is given.

As of 22nd March the notice of the 2015 AGM has not yet been issued. Given that the 2015 AGM is to be held on 14th May to ensure that your request is accepted for the AGM it should be submitted before 2nd April 2015.

Make your voice count. You may also like to ask your MP to raise this matter with the government and with UKFI.

So that we may check that the threshold for acceptance has been reached please email a copy of your request to:
mpage@sycamore.aero
Yours sincerely
Sycamore Limited
Michael Page
mpage@sycamore.aero

Christmas 2014 round up of financial crimes with no one going to jail.

My husband made a very valid point a few days ago and I have been thinking about it every day since. He pointed out that when we (Paul and I) started looking at misconduct in the financial industry and specifically HBOS, we couldn’t get anyone to take our allegations seriously because no one believed us. That was in 2007 and it took until late 2009 to actually get the FSA involved and 2010 before the police got involved – even although we made allegations to the police in November 2007. We’re not a lot further forward now in December 2014 because the criminal trials for that alleged crime won’t start until September 2015 – and even then, I’m not holding my breath.

It was disappointing no one believed us in 2007 but not surprising because the idea banks, or rather bankers, might be crooks, was out of the question back then. Bankers were seen as respectable professionals and your bank manager was so trustworthy, he or she could even sign your passport. The same doesn’t apply now and no one bats an eyelid at the concept of crooked bankers – in fact bad conduct is what we expect from them, to the point even the good guys (yes I do acknowledge there are still many good bankers our there) are tarred with the same brush.

Paul’s point was simple: It was tough back in 2007 because no one believed us, so nothing was done. Now, everyone knows the financial sector is rife with fraud and corruption and still nothing has been done! Not just in the case we reported – right across the board and in thousands of cases. Even more alarming is the fact that, in many instances I know of, where people have tried to report financial crime, the police will not investigate it! In all probability this is because they don’t have the budgets to investigate such a glut of criminality in austerity Britain – but that is of no help to the victims who are frequently told – “it’s a civil matter.” No it’s not – crime is never a ‘civil matter’ and even victims of PPI have a right to report it as a crime, get a crime number and, if applicable, also have it investigated. Of course that might damage crime statistics.

But no. Most financial crime is just swept under the carpet as “mis-selling” or “restructuring” and resolved by bank shareholders’ paying huge fines to the FCA. Think about that for a moment – we all believe bankers have committed criminal acts but nothing has happened. It just beggars belief and is really as scary as hell because, what it actually means is, we can no longer rely on the Law and really do have a two tier criminal justice system. There isn’t another, plausible explanation.

This terrifying thought was brought home again when I read the latest excellent Matt Taibbi article in Rolling Stone magazine: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-police-in-america-are-becoming-illegitimate-20141205 where he is talking about the disparities in the US legal system and it reminded me that I still haven’t had a reply to my letter to Mr Cameron of December 2012 when I asked for some clarification about the apparent immunity bankers have from prosecution. In that letter, which I wrote after reading some worrying comments from Andrew Bailey (now head of the PRA), I said:

Mr Cameron, unless I am completely mistaken, Mr Bailey seems to be telling us that banks, and therefore bankers, are now officially considered to be above the law in this country and that, in the interests of confidence in the banking industry (which is already at rock bottom among the British public, and therefore can hardly sink any lower), they cannot be prosecuted.

I am writing to ask you, as Prime Minister, for some clarification.

Does your government endorse the notion that banks and bankers should be given a licence to commit criminal acts without any fear of prosecution? Is this now official government policy? Are the British public now being asked to accept that, despite incontrovertible evidence of multiple criminal acts by banks, including money-laundering, drug-money-laundering, Libor rigging, multiple frauds and assorted Ponzi schemes, bankers are considered to be immune from prosecution? And if so, can I ask on what grounds your government, or indeed the government of any democratic country, can justify such a policy?” Full letter here: http://www.ianfraser.org/dear-mr-cameron-if-bankers-are-above-the-law-we-need-an-urgent-explanation/

I didn’t write the letter to be confrontational – although I must admit I am incredibly disappointed the PM’s strong words in the run up to the last election about what should happen to criminal bankers, turned out to be hot air and no more. This is what he said to Jeff Randall in January 2009:

“I think that we need to look at the behaviour of banks and bankers and, where people have behaved inappropriately, that needs to be identified and if anyone has behaved criminally, in my view, there is a role for the criminal law and I don’t understand why is this country the regulatory authorities seem to be doing so little to investigate it, whereas in America they’re doing quite a lot.”

I wrote the letter because I genuinely wanted some reassurance from the Prime Minister that bankers are not above the law; we don’t have a two tier legal system and; something would be done to redress this inequitable situation.

So what has happened to clarify or allay my concerns since December 2012? Well a few things have happened but not what I was expecting. For example:

  1. I’ve never had a reply.

  2. Several banks have been found guilty of money laundering and even money laundering for drug cartels. And the only penalty has been a huge tax on the bank’s shareholders who have paid massive fines for the conduct of bankers. But no one has gone to jail.

*given that banks (buildings or legal entities) don’t have any physical ability to pick up the phone and negotiate with drug cartels – such deals had to be done by bankers. So why have no bankers been held responsible?

  1. Many banks have been found guilty of making billions of pounds with the PPI scam. They’ve had to pay the money back in many cases but, I assure you, not all cases. So again, the shareholders have lost a fortune. But no one has gone to jail.

* I often wonder who invented PPI? Did senior bankers sit down and plan how best to get thousands of their customers to take out insurance policies which cost them a fortune but could never be used? Or did someone in a bank find a recipe for creating and implementing PPI in a fortune cookie?

  1. As a founder member of SME Alliance, I talk every day to people whose businesses have been totally destroyed with various, ridiculously (and I would suggest deliberately) complicated financial products under the collective name of swaps. I’m not a victim of a swap and I know little about them (I’m learning fast) but even their titles smack of more contempt for businesses e.g. vanilla swaps. Can you have chocolate or strawberry? Probably. The FCA have said many of these products should never have been sold to ‘unsophisticated’ clients and in some cases banks have had to give the money back. However, the years it has taken for this to happen and the devastation these products have caused, apparently do not necessitate banks having to pay out billions in compensation. The redress scheme the FCA has come up with has conveniently been limited to peanuts – and no one has gone to jail.

* A journalist was telling me the other day of a case where someone challenged the FCA decision multiple times and was eventually awarded £500k – but of course the bank interest and charges on his account over the time it took to challenge the bank’s conduct meant the victim got nothing and the bank paid themselves £500k. You couldn’t make it up.

  1. The now infamous business recovery units like RBS/GRG have been merrily acquiring, appropriating, stealing their clients’ assets left right and centre and sadly RBS have not been working in isolation. It has caused outrage – it’s been all over the news, MPs have held debates on the subject, Committees have interviewed senior bankers and regulators and even the ever cautious BBC have suggested some bankers are crooks. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04t6jy1 But no one has gone to jail.

* As a victim of HBOS Reading (similar model) I have so much to say on this – but am having to keep quiet for now but not forever.

  1. And while the likes of GRG and HBOS Reading have caused many businesses to fail, a separate scandal has specifically targeted farms across the Country for over 20 years. Repeated allegations have been made against a man called Des Phillips and various of the 59 companies he has been or is a director of including UK Farm Finance, UKCC and UK Acorn Finance. And some of our major banks have been heavily implicated in these allegations as have other ‘professionals’. It’s a sickening story which has resulted in many family farms being repossessed and, sadly, farmers committing suicide. You can hear about it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b040hzz5 or read about here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm141111/halltext/141111h0001.htm No one has been prosecuted so no one has gone to jail.

  2. Bankers or traders have been found guilty of rigging LIBOR. Again, massive fines have been levied – another penalty on shareholders. However, in this instance it looks possible some bankers will go to jail and one banker has even pleaded guilty. But let’s not get too excited that justice might be done. Read this: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/oct/07/banker-pleads-guilty-libor-rigging-rate-fixing

As you can see the banker concerned could get up to 10 years in jail but we don’t know who he is or what bank he worked for and reporting on this case is heavily restricted. Presumably, after the other three people charged have had their trials, we might know more. But I wouldn’t bet money on it – especially if the banker in question worked for one of the State subsidised banks. But it’s a start.

I could make the list much longer but, to date and looking at the 6 instances above, money laundering, PPI, Swaps, asset theft including farms and LIBOR rigging, it’s certain 1 person in the UK will go to jail and 4 people might. And when you look at the trail of poverty, misery, desperation and devastation these crimes have caused, it is unbelievably disappointing – not to mention scandalous, that our regulators, justice system and worse still, our Government, have let this happen. In fact it is morally and ethically reprehensible.

Of course individual bankers do go to jail quite regularly – they’re usually quite low down in the pecking order and their offences (with a few noticeable exceptions) just about make it into their local newspapers. But the top dogs – the ones who make policy – the ones who instigate and oversee the kind of conduct which allowed all of the above to happen, seem to remain above the law. Which begs the question – why do we have laws?

Meanwhile, the Government have issued the following figures regarding crimes to businesses:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/284818/crime-against-businesses-headlines-2013-pdf.pdf

I haven’t read it in any great detail but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mention the wholesale destruction of SMEs by banks. I sometimes think we should move the Houses of Parliament to Canary Wharf and have done with it before La La Land spreads across the whole of London.

Here in the real world we are in the run up to what will be another very austere festive season for many people in Britain – and I’m not just talking about people or SMEs who have been defrauded by banks. I’m talking about those families who’ve lost jobs and/or benefits and most of all, those people relying on food banks or who have lost their homes and now live on the street. A lot of people would say – me included – our major banks and therefore our most senior bankers, were very instrumental in causing our national austerity. And, post the so called Credit Crunch, those same banks (especially the part State owned ones) have done little to help the economy and much to damage it further. Unbelievably, the people at the top of those banks continue to be heavily rewarded.

For example, yesterday (13th December) I was reading an article about the top paid European Bank CEO’s. http://www.cityam.com/1415705309/which-ceos-european-bank-have-biggest-pay-checks-two-uk-banks-take-second-and-third-place

Hmmm – £7.4M. Even when you deduct 50% tax, that still leaves approximately £71k a week. I think you could have one hell of a Christmas with that remuneration package!

Mind you, every silver lining has its own cloud and I suddenly thought – I bet it’s really tough finding the perfect Christmas gift for these top bankers because, what do you buy for the man or woman who has everything? So maybe La La Land has its own problems at Christmas.

Shame you can’t gift wrap integrity – if we could give some of them that, the whole Country might feel more festive. Still, there’s always the good old standby gift – Monopoly. After all, banks have bought, sold, packaged and mortgaged every property on the board many, many times over – but, to date, they have been very adept at steering clear of the “Go to Jail” square. But then I’m guessing Al Capone thought he would never lose ‘games’ either.

Did the Bank Wreck My Business? Yes – so what happens now?

Did the Bank Wreck My Business? Yes – so what happens now?

I’m pretty sure the ratings for the excellent Panorama programme, ‘Did The Bank Wreck My Business’, were very high last Monday. Certainly most people I know watched it – but then many of them have direct experience of banking abuse at the hands of RBS or Lloyds – so they would. In fact most of them were interviewed by Andy Verity and Jon Coffey although their stories weren’t used in the programme. Some would say (and I would agree) there are many more horrific stories out there that the production team could have used – but it’s not a competition. Every business annihilated by bank misconduct (known to many as fraud), is a tragedy. And, given the Beeb’s generally conservative, establishment stance, I think it’s nothing short of a miracle this programme was as frank and exposing as it was.

As always, when programmes like this are on, I took some notes. I do it mostly to collect quotes for my book (nothing quite like “from the horses mouth”quotes to make points) but I also do it because I’m so staggered at what some people in the banking world say, it has to be captured in black and white for posterity. One day future generations will surely look back and ask “how the hell (being polite there) did a democratic country let that happen?”

I know the transcript of the programme will be available soon (or I hope it will) but here’s some of my favourite quotes from last night:

Jon Pain (RBS) “The whole purpose of GRG is to help customers return to financial health…..”

Vince Cable (BIS) “Well of course I’m very alarmed because good companies appear to have been put at risk or in some cases destroyed by banks behaviour…..”

Stephen Pegge (Lloyds) “our goal is to support businesses (you know) small and medium sized businesses are really important to us….”

Jon Pain (RBS) “(But) I would in no shape or form condone any inappropriate behaviour by anybody acting on behalf of RBS – that’s not part of our agenda in supporting customers.”

Christ Sullivan (RBS) to Andrew Tyrie re GRG “It is absolutely not a profit centre!”

Ross Finch (Lloyds victims) re his meeting with an exec of Cerberus who Lloyds sold his loan to “When I expressed disbelief about their behaviour, um, he said, “what you’ve got to understand is I am a prick” – which I couldn’t believe he would say such a thing!”

I’ve just pulled out those quotes because they are either so absurd or so shocking– and they’ve been broadcast on the BBC, the bastion of British correctness. If even the Beeb is exposing RBS and Lloyds as a bunch of crooks, what can we say? Nine years on from the so called Credit Crunch and where are we? I would say, if anything, we’re walking backwards. As one of the founder members of SME Alliance and a member of Whistleblowers UK ( Paul and I blew the whistle on HBOS Reading – the HBOS equivalent of GRG), I hear horror stories about banks v SMEs every single day. But the exposure of banking atrocities is no longer limited to what banks like to portray as ‘the niche market of poorly performing SMEs’. Everyone knows how bad some of our banks are and Andy Verity’s programme should be one of the final nails in the coffin of bad banking.

But will it be? Big question:

Vince Cable, Andrew Tyrie, the Treasury Select Committee, the FCA, the PRA, Mark Carney, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg – did you watch “Did The Bank Wreck My Business’? And if you did – what are you going to do about it? They certainly didn’t wreck your businesses so I understand that maybe you don’t understand the consequences of what banks do. However, I do and so do thousands of SME owners, employee’s, shareholders and creditors. We live with the consequences.

I also know Andy Verity and Jon Coffey have done extensive research to make this programme and could have used any number of totally outrageous cases because they interviewed loads of SME owners (or ex SME owners) – and I know some of those stories may have been a step too far for the Beeb. In my own case sub judice was a big problem. But I know they made the programme in the spirit of stopping banks abusing SMEs. So has it worked? Has it helped? Will anything change?

Well the Panorama team have done their bit. David, Ed, Nick, Andrew, Mark – over to you. You are the people who can make the banks behave – or at least you should be. If the reality is you’re not – then wow, we have a serious problem in our democracy.

Best quote of the programme, without doubt, has to be Austin Mitchell MP, talking in Parliament about the Keith Ross case and saying it how it really is:

“What I want to do today is tell the story of the theft of a profitable Yorkshire company and I don’t mean the criminal Mafia we often speak of I mean Britain’s dark suited Mafia which in this case is represented by Lloyd Bank and Price Waterhouse Cooper both acting in collusion….”

Here’s the link from Hansard to Keith Elliot’s case: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2013-11-12a.212.0

Of course, living in Italy for nearly 20 years, Austin’s comments would strike a chord with me. Well said Austin – there’s not many MP’s who would draw Parliament’s attention to the similarities between the banks and the Mafia but I would just put you straight on one thing – our dark suited Mafiosi are, in many cases, criminal.

I’m posting this on my own blog site because this is my own view – but I believe many people in SME Alliance will appreciate this view and I have to give us a plug because the conduct exposed in the programme is one of the reasons SME Alliance was formed.

#SME Alliance – giving SMEs a voice. #nooneisabovethelaw