Insolvent financial adviser couple banned for hiding assets

A married couple who used hidden funds to maintain a lavish lifestyle after their financial advisory business collapsed have been banned from working in financial services for integrity failings by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which has fined the wife £50,000 for attempting to mislead the regulator during an FCA interview

Colette and John Chiesa were founding partners of Westwood Independent Financial Planners, a firm authorised by the FCA to provide personal investment advice.

Following action taken by the FCA in May 2011 over mis-selling of geared traded endowment (GTEP) policies, Westwood became insolvent and went into sequestration, the term used in Scotland to describe bankruptcy.

Westwood, and therefore Mr and Mrs Chiesa as partners with unlimited liability in Westwood, had significant liabilities arising from numerous valid claims filed with the Financial Ombudsman Service relating to the advice offered on GTEP sales.

In late 2011, a trustee was appointed to establish the value of the Chiesas’ assets and liabilities, so an assessment could be made which would allow them to pay creditors. 

The FCA says the pair made inadequate, incomplete and misleading disclosures about their financial situation during their sequestration, in order to avoid the trustee inquiring into, and potentially recovering, assets for the benefit of their creditors.

For example, they failed to disclose their continued beneficial interest in an unregulated company that was capable of paying over £1m per year into an off-shore remuneration trust for their benefit.

This trust paid the Chiesas a total of approximately £2.6m between April 2012 and December 2014, at an average of over £84,000 per month. The payments were in the form of loans which, in the FCA’s view, were never intended to be repaid.

Mr and Mrs Chiesa also failed to disclose that the unregulated company regularly paid significant personal and living expenses on their behalf, including rent on a London address of around £5,000 per month.

Between October 2011 and July 2013 Mrs Chiesa spent on average £6,000 per month on clothing, jewellery, interior design, cosmetic dental treatment, travel and her Porsche car. Between August 2011 and December 2014, Mr Chiesa spent on average £12,000 per month on flying lessons, tennis tickets, football tickets and club membership.

During the sequestration process Mr and Mrs Chiesa each paid only £200 per month towards their creditors.

Mark Steward, FCA executive director of enforcement and market oversight, said: 'The Chiesas misled their creditors, especially the FSCS, in a calculated way. Their misconduct demonstrates a serious lack of integrity.'

Customers who lost significant sums due to Westwood’s mis-selling received compensation from the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), which by late 2016 had paid out over £3.8m.

FCA’s final notice for John Chiesa is here.

FCA’s final notice for Colette Chiesa is here.

Report by Pat Sweet

Pat Sweet |Reporter, Accountancy Daily [2010-2021]

Pat Sweet was the former online reporter at Accountancy Daily and contributor to the monthly Accountancy magazine, pub...

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