Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
M.P. writes: I am sending you a summary of payments my late father made to Living Investments UK for the purchase of interests in teak and bamboo growing in Costa Rica.
He received certificates for the first two investments, but despite repeated chasing he never received paperwork for his third teak investment or the bamboo scheme.
Tough: The whole project may count as a Collective Investment Scheme, and that would bring it under the rules of the FCA
Tony Hetherington replies: You will have seen that two weeks ago, I described Nicholas (‘Nico’) Durrant – the man behind Living Investments UK – as being like a slippery eel with a generous coating of Vaseline. Well, nothing has changed.
You found that your father had been due to receive income from the teak tree scheme as long ago as 2014 but it had not arrived. Durrant told you the income must have been reinvested by your father at a later date, but there was no evidence of this and Durrant has failed to offer any explanation. Worse, he has issued big invoices to you and other investors.
The demand you received for £2,489 even included work connected to the two investments for which your father never received title deeds, and it included alleged arrears going back eight years.
Like every investor who has contacted me, you had trouble getting in touch with Durrant at the London address he uses. This is because it is simply a maildrop.
Durrant’s real address is a splendid £2million home he rents in Oxford. And Living Investments UK does not really exist. It is just a trading name Durrant uses, though he fails to act legally and disclose this on his invoices and similar documents.
I asked Durrant to comment on what you told me. He said: ‘Thank you for shedding light on this matter, and it will be investigated into [sic] immediately. The plantation and investment is genuine. They are all professionally managed and maintained.’
And Durrant told me: ‘I was just a sales employee of Living Investment UK. It was badly set up and run. I disagreed with how they operated and since its closure have worked to look after all of the existing clients in order to maximise their investments and their yields, and by bringing in specialists on a consultancy basis.’
But how can he have been employed by something which did not exist? And how can it close down? And if it has closed down, why is Durrant still issuing demands for thousands of pounds in the name of that very same Living Investments UK?
Still wriggling, Durrant told me his demands were really issued by an Essex accountancy company, Money Books Limited. He explained: ‘Money Books manages all the maintenance of the plantations independently and Mr P had never paid his annual bill.’
You told me this is completely untrue. Your father paid every management invoice he received, except that in 2020 he held back £75, saying he would only pay this when he received the missing deeds to two of his investments.
And Anthony Robertson, who runs the Essex accountancy firm told me: ‘Money Books merely manages the invoicing of annual maintenance fees to investors, and has nothing to do with managing the actual maintenance of the plantations.’
The amounts demanded reflect the information he was given, he explained. And a few days ago, Durrant told you the missing deeds were posted to your father in March last year, but by ordinary post with no record of posting or receipt.
Durrant believes his scheme does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Financial Conduct Authority.
However, the invoices he has issued share out a wide range of what are said to be maintenance fees, his travel to and from Costa Rica, and even fees to ‘front men’ locally whose presence hides the identity of whoever really controls the plantations.
This may mean the whole project counts as a Collective Investment Scheme – a sort of unit trust which invests in trees rather than stocks and shares. And that would bring it under the rules of the FCA, which has now been offered all the evidence gathered by The Mail on Sunday.
I ordered dog food… and Amazon sent a necklace!
Ms V.S. writes: I ordered dog food supplements from Amazon, and later that day I received an email from Amazon about an order for a cubic zirconia necklace costing £159. I did not order this, so I called my bank and it cancelled my card but said the payment could not be stopped.
A few days later Amazon said I would be charged £192 for a stereo, which I had not ordered. This was on the cancelled card so Amazon collected nothing.
I reported all this to Amazon but was told it had found no unauthorised activity
Basket case: Amazon sent an email about a cubic zirconia necklace costing £159, rather than the dog food supplements ordered
Tony Hetherington replies: Fortunately, Lloyds Bank, which issued your card, said it would snatch back the £159.
But it followed this up with a warning that if Amazon objected and insisted you really had ordered the necklace, then the bank would have to pay the shopping giant all over again. Happily, I can reassure you that Amazon is not objecting. A spokesperson accepted that someone had used your card without your consent, possibly by gaining access to your computer.
If you receive any suspicious emails that pretend to be from Amazon, report them by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email email@example.com. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.