Park First reportedly close to deal with FCA over illegal investment scheme allegations

According to reports in The Times, the FCA is close to a settlement with Park First and owner Toby Whittaker over the £230 million collapse of the scheme.

In late 2017 (not 2016 as the linked article has it), in an uncharacteristic burst of activity, the FCA shut the scheme down, alleging that in its current form it constituted an illegal collective investment scheme. Park First offered a “guaranteed yield” of 8% in the first two years, rising to 10% and 12% thereafter, mirroring the returns on offer from sister scheme Store First (which was Park First with self-storage sheds instead of airport parking spaces).

Investors were given the option of either switching to a different scheme which offered only 2% plus variable dividends, or getting their money back. Unsurprisingly, nearly all investors opted for the latter. By this point Park First no longer had the money. After a desultory attempt to flog the new 2% scheme to Russian investors (who were falsely told that the original investors had been repaid), Park First collapsed into administration.

Existing investors were offered a choice: switch to a new interaction scheme or sell parking lots to the company, having fully returned their money.

The company fulfilled its obligations to investors who left in full.

Investors who choose to stay already receive rental income and dividends.

Park First’s Russian Instagram page in March 2019, three months before it collapsed into administration (via Google Translate)

Whittaker has already (apparently) successfully walked away from the collapse of Park First’s sister scheme, Store First. In late 2019 the Official Receiver sold the freehold, associated assets and goodwill of Store First’s storage centres to Toby Whittaker’s wife for an undisclosed sum (which under UK matrimonial law is the same thing as selling them to Toby Whittaker himself). It said in a statement that this represented “the best outcome for creditors”. No returns were reportedly received by Store First investors, although they were given the ability to surrender the pods and their ongoing liability for business rates for free.

Whether Park First investors fare any better in any upcoming settlement remains to be seen. The FCA for its part says

In this complex case we have taken civil enforcement action alleging serious breaches of the Financial Services and Markets Act,’ a spokesperson said.

We are committed to ensuring that those running the firms account for their misconduct, including paying compensation to victims.

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