Company that swindled Algarve expats out of millions receives ‘public censure’ from Financial Conduct Authority

After all the heartache, suspicion and column inches, the full-blown financial drama of Premier FX – the foreign exchange company with offices in Almancil that collapsed almost three years ago, taking millions of euros worth of expat savings with it – has been ‘laid to rest’ by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Issuing a 44-page final notice on Tuesday after what it calls “a complex investigation involving the analysis of hundreds of thousands of transactions over the course of several years”, the FCA admits “there were excessive transfers of funds (over £10 million)” which couldn’t be properly explained – all of them controlled by sole shareholder and director of Premier FX Peter Rexstrew – a man who died following heart surgery in Lisbon.

Rexstrew lied to his customers about the services his company was authorised to provide and how it held their money – although the FCA puts this into the 3rd person, blaming the company, despite acknowledging that Rexstrew “controlled all aspects of its operations”.

Thus, according to the FCA  Premier FX “seriously misled its customers by informing them that it was able to hold their funds indefinitely, that their funds would be held in secure, segregated client accounts and that their funds would be protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

“None of these claims were true. Because of these misrepresentations, many customers paid their funds to Premier FX (some customers paid hundreds of thousands of pounds sterling, euros or US dollars) to hold without an onward transfer instruction on the basis that the funds would be repayable on demand.

“Premier FX failed to comply with requirements relating to the safeguarding of funds and the use of payment accounts imposed on it under the Payment Services Regulations 2009 and the Payment Services Regulations 2017 between 2013 and 2018. An authorised payment institution like Premier FX should not hold a customer’s funds unless accompanied by a payment order for onward transfer, either to be executed immediately or on a future date.

“Premier FX was not permitted to hold its customers’ funds indefinitely as this may have amounted to accepting deposits which is separately regulated under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000”.

Says the final notice, in normal circumstances the  FCA “would have imposed a substantial financial penalty on Premier FX because of the serious failings in this case”. However, it has considered that a public censure “is a more appropriate sanction given that Premier FX is in liquidation and that there is a significant liability to its creditors, most of whom are consumers”.

Mark Steward, the authority’s Executive Director of Enforcement and Market Oversight, commented:

‘We may never understand Peter Rexstrew’s motivation for operating Premier FX in this way, using new customers’ funds to pay existing customers or business expenses. Whatever the reasons for his deception, his scheme completely unravelled within a few weeks of his death, leaving a mess for others and losses for customers. Our notice sets out our findings on what happened as a matter of record.’

The FCA’s findings will have disappointed those whose life’s plans and projects were blown apart by this drama.

Said one today: “It’s rather a whitewash. It has ignored most comments for inclusion by the PFX Liquidation Committee and attributes no blame or responsibility to the regulator or banker on payment service regulations and anti money laundering laws. We have 28 days to object”.

This particular victim lost the proceeds of the sale of a sole residence as a result of PFX’s collapse – and with it a plan to move and work in America. The victims believes Peter Rexstrew “is living in Monaco with his millions” as he apparently planned to move there and set up a new business.

The victim also said it was difficult to understand why Peter Rexstrew (who had “always been so skeptical about the Portuguese”) did not have his surgery at the Royal Brompton in London, close to his Surrey home” – admitting “police are not interested in investigating this level of fraud, no matter what we tell them”.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com