A UK Watchdog Has Shut Down Two Fraudulent Art Investment Companies That Scammed Unsuspecting Backers Out of $1.3 Million

Participants thought they were investing in works by Picasso and Dalí.

Image courtesy of Creative Commons Pixabay.

Two fraudulent art investment companies in the UK that raked in more than $1.3 million from unsuspecting investors have been shut down. Authorities will now oversee the re-distribution of assets to, hopefully, some of those who were duped.

Gem Tobin Ltd, based in Cheshire, and Dinonysus Design Services Ltd., in York, were turned over to liquidators on October 7 at the High Court in Manchester, according to a press release from the London-based Insolvency Service.

“Following confidential inquiries, investigators established that Gem Tobin and Dionysus Design Services had received payments from people who were persuaded to make investments in works of art, supposedly by renowned painters,” the press release said. But investigators may have already been one step ahead of the scammers.

In court, it was revealed that the two companies came to the attention of the Insolvency Service as a result of previous investigations into related companies, Halifax Mannin Ltd. and Hey Design Services. Those companies were turned over to liquidators in March after raising nearly $1.9 million (£1.4 million) from investors under false pretenses.

Gem and Dionysus were “a continuation of the activity carried on by Halifax Mannin and Hey Design,” according to the most recent statement, released earlier this week. All of the schemes appear to have been operated from Spain or Morocco by a separate business known as Asset Consulting Services, or Asset Consulting Group, which itself was subject to a previous warning from financial regulators.

“These companies have acted cynically in accepting almost £1 million from members of the public, many of whom are elderly and vulnerable people,” said David Hope, chief investigator for the Insolvency Service. Hope said there was “no evidence to indicate that the investment being offered had any value or was likely to generate any return for the investors. This continues a pattern of behavior that was identified in relation to other companies.”

The vast majority of the funds received by Gem Tobin and Dionysus have been pulled out of the accounts, but “investigators have not been able to determine how the funds were spent as the individuals believed to have been in control of the companies failed to co-operate with inquiries,” the release said. The individuals who operated the companies were not named in the complaint.

Steven Fifer, an Insolvency Agency representative told artnet News in an email that information about how the scheme operated is limited. “It appears that potential investors were generally approached by unsolicited phone calls.” Prospective investors were told that they would be investing in works by Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso and that the investments would increase the artworks’ value.

Once an initial investment was secured the investor would often be approached again and encouraged to make further contributions. Investors were also sent documentation and subjected to pressurized sales calls. “A courier would often be sent to their home to collect the payment,” Fifer told artnet News.

“Thankfully, the courts have now put a stop to their activities, preventing further harm, and anyone approached by, or thinking about making an investment with, Asset Consulting Services or Asset Consulting Group should read the warning issued by the Financial Conduct Authority and take independent financial advice before making any decisions,” said Hope.

Investors hoping to recoup their money can contact the Official Receiver, appointed by the court as liquidator of the companies. “Investors can register a claim as a creditor in the liquidation, but any distribution to creditors will depend on the value of any assets that are realize,” Fifer said.

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