La Valette property fund: Arbiter upholds 55 new complaints against BOV

The financial services arbiter has upheld 55 complaints against Bank of Valletta and ordered full compensation of savings lost in the La Valette multi-manager property fund

The financial services arbiter has upheld nothing short of 55 complaints against Bank of Valletta by individual complainants who lost their investments in the La Valette multi-manager property fund.

Complainants who spoke to MaltaToday outside the arbiter’s office said they felt satisfied with the decision of the arbiter, who ordered the bank to pay back the lost savings together with 8% interest.

The arbiter was said to have found a clear case of “misselling” by the bank when it sold what was a professional investment fund to retail clients.

Bank of Valletta can be expected to file an appeal before the Court of Appeal from the decision as it did with the decision of the same Arbiter in February 2018.

Back then the arbiter ordered had BOV to refund millions in lost savings with interest, due to alleged misselling - specifically €3.4 million plus legal interest of 8% from the date of complaint, to some 500 aggrieved investors.

Those complaints had been submitted by stockbroker Paul Bonello of Finco Treasury Management and law firm Refalo Zammit Pace in July 2016, with the decision having been overdue since 2017.

The investors had complained that the 75c share offer by BOV in 2011, offered just weeks before sanctions were issued, was insufficient. A further 25c share compensation ordered by the MFSA was also considered insufficient.

Finco Treasury Management has always argued that it was the responsibility of BOV’s investment arm Valletta Fund Management to see that investment restrictions in the fund’s prospectus were not broken. The arbiter had confirmed then that property fund had invested in nine other underlying funds in breach of restrictions on gearing.

Those nine funds incurred losses of €33 million up until 2011, but  BOV issued custodian reports where it insisted that no breaches of investment restrictions had taken place, according to Finco having “misled investors for years since 2006”.

In the original complaint, the arbiter had also said BOV’s initial 75c offer was a breach of consumer rules, and that “the majority of clients were elderly investors who had expected to be entering a safe investment with operators who knew more than they knew, and who would observe the prospectus rules they themselves issued, with self-imposed restrictions they had to observe. This did not happen as observed by both the MFSA and the arbiter.”

The Malta Financial Services Authority also fined BOV six times between 2011 and 2012 for misselling the fund to inexperienced investors and for breaching its own investment restrictions.

Around 2,300 investors had then accepted the bank’s subsequent compensation of 75c per share on condition that that they waive legal action against the bank should the MFSA find it had breached property fund conditions.

Others, represented by Finco, demanded that BOV repay them based on the value of the shares at the time of investment and were indeed eventually compensated in full. However, BOV ignored the MFSA’s subsequent demand to bring compensation up in full for the other 2,300 who had accepted its original offer.

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