TPR suspends Optimum Retirement Benefits Plan trustee following pension fraud allegations

A trustee of the Optimum Retirement Benefits Plan has been suspended by The Pensions Regulator after police launched an investigation into pension fraud.

The trustee of the Optimum Retirement Benefits Plan and other concerned pension schemes Gordon Craig is currently undergoing an investigation by the North West regional organised crime unit Titan.

While the investigation is ongoing, it has been decided that Dalriada should be appointed as an independent trustee to the scheme to act in place of Craig and other trustees, in order to protect from additional transfers into the scheme.

A total of £13.4m was transferred to the Optimum Retirement Benefits Plan since 2015, from the pensions of 288 people. Some members were encouraged to transfer via cold-calls.

Following the transfers, some members were faced with pension liberation fraud whereby they received loans from companies linked to Craig, for as much as 75 per cent of their funds. Additionally, introducers were paid tens of thousands of pounds in fees.

Remaining funds not paid as loans were invested in high-risk illiquid investments including gem-mining and olive oil processing, while Craig paid himself almost £500,000 from scheme funds in 12 months.

As a result, the regulator’s Determinations Panel emphasised that it is “overwhelmingly in the interests of scheme members and for the protection of scheme assets,” that Craig is suspended from his role whilst the investigation is carried out.

In addition, a number of people involved in the creation or running of Optimum and linked schemes have been convicted of dishonesty offences. Two of those involved, Martin Dowd and Robert Winstanley have been jailed for money-laundering and a third, Richard Jones, was convicted of the same crime with a suspended prison sentence.

The panel also voiced its concern that the trustees had breached their duties via poor record keeping and having limited knowledge of how the pension scheme should have been operated.

The sponsoring employer of Optimum Retirement Benefits Plan, Optimum Financial Solutions Limited, was wound up in the public interest by the High Court in February following an Insolvency Service investigation.

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