Further to our recent article on Alastair Dobbie and Qualiacare [LINK HERE] we have some additional information concerning the Qualiacare deception and manipulation of the insolvency process.
When the scam companies collapsed, Alastair Dobbie somewhat bizarrely chose to approach Qualiacare investors under the Shortlands Law banner. Shortlands specialises in Family Law (divorces, child custody etc). B&M Law would surely have been a better choice as they are a law firm which deals with property issues and he has a role as consultant solicitor at that firm. Our previous article explains why he may have wanted his involvement with B&M Law to remain a secret. The most worrying aspect is that he never declared his involvement in the scam to his newly acquired clients. We assumed that Shortlands Law would want to get to the bottom of this.
We emailed Shabana Walayat and Wajiha Shah with the questions below and didn’t receive any answers. We emailed again once it became clear Alastair Dobbie and the investor co-ordinators he and Roberto Pancaldi had established, were negotiating with Robin Forster. Mr Forster was subject to a worldwide freezing order obtained by the FCA. The freezing order was known to Alastair Dobbie. The head of the co-ordinators is Mr Nico Bruyniks and he has confirmed he is a client of Alastair Dobbie / Shortlands Law so we presume he was also made aware of it. At the moment we believe Mr Bruyniks has genuine intentions, but he may have been misled. We will know more in the next 24 hours.
We were surprised to hear that Mr Bruyniks and/or Alastair Dobbie were negotiating to have the care home freeholds transferred at under-value to a new Austrian company they had established (both Alastair Dobbie and Nico Bruyniks are based in Austria), The freezing order made it clear that:
“Any person who knows of the First Defendant’s [Robin Forster’s] undertakings and/or this Order and does anything which helps or permits Robin Scott Forster to breach the terms of his undertakings may also be held to be in contempt of court and may be imprisoned, fined or have their assets seized”.
We were even more surprised when we were told they had persuaded Robin Forster to agree to put the PAHL companies into a CVA process. This was without prior FCA approval. The Qualiacare deception is murky enough without private deals being done behind closed doors. It seems the deal which has been agreed includes rewarding Robin Forster for assisting their group. This is a man who took £50m from investors and had agreed to pay £6.5m back to them over the next nine years ! He took £4.5m from investors for rooms in care homes that he didn’t own, but the deal being proposed by this group is that his new company is going to be allowed to run the care homes !
We expect the investors who paid the £4.5m to challenge this deal. They come so far down the pecking order that they will never see any money. All of this was done against a backdrop of the care homes being transferred out of the ownership of Qualiacare Developments Ltd and Qualiacare Properties Ltd to new companies (the PAHL companies) owned by Robin Forster. This was facilitated by the insolvency firm appointed by Mr Forster, Auker Rhodes. Mr Forster puts quite a lot of business their way so they quite like him. They like him so much that they declared they had no intention of trying to recover any money from him !
The transfer was done against the express instructions of the FCA who advised that no assets were to be transferred. I think most people are expecting the FCA, or any new insolvency firm, to return those assets back to those companies. If the FCA doesn’t act then it is a clear signal to other scammers that the FCA doesn’t care so they can ignore any FCA intervention and do what they like.
At a couple of recently choreographed creditors’ Zoom meetings organised by Auker Rhodes, one for QCD and another for QCP, it became apparent that a deal had been done. Alastair Dobbie was given a disproportionate amount of time to wax lyrical about himself and his services. Any dissenting voices were muted out and not given an opportunity to question his pitch to creditors. Auker Rhodes announced to the surprise of many that it had changed the room investor claim values. It had previously published the claim values in its Administrators Reports which are available for public viewing on [THIS LINK] and [THIS LINK]. Auker Rhodes made the announcement without any prior notice to creditors. The effect of this sudden change was to increase the value of Alastair Dobbie’s and Nico Bruyniks’ proxy votes in order to give them a voting majority so they could force through the appointment of Alastair Dobbie and Roberto Pancaldi to the creditor’s committees of both companies. That’s what some might call manipulating the UK’s insolvency process to favour one form of creditor.
It is incredible that Mr Bruyniks would use the proxy votes he had obtained from investors to vote a solicitor and his sales agent partner onto creditor’s committees. These are people who were involved in selling and arranging deals in this scam. They may be subject to prosecution by investors under the very same regulations that the FCA is applying in this case. We are not convinced that investors who have allowed Mr Bruyniks to vote for them would want to see anyone involved in putting investors into the scam on creditors’ committees. We’re also pretty sure most of them don’t want to see the salesmen and their lawyer partners receiving any more fees from their continued involvement in the scam.
The investor co-ordinators who were put in place by the salesman Roberto Pancaldi will be asking investors which way they want them to vote. We recommend that investors make their feelings known and insist that nobody involved in putting investors into the scam should be given any role whatsoever.
SHORTLANDS LAW COMMUNICATIONS
Here are the questions we asked Shortlands Law:
1. Were you aware that Alastair Dobbie is a consultant solicitor with B&M Law ?
2. Were you aware that B&M Law was involved in the sale of leases to investors in the Northern Powerhouse Developments, Carlauren, Qualiacare and St Camillus scams when you began approaching investors to offer legal services ?
3. Are you aware of the SRA Warnings that law firms should not get involved in high-risk investments, including the sale of hotel rooms, and that law firms and lawyers who do get involved could be liable to compensate investors for their losses ?
4. If the answer to any of the above is Yes, please can you explain the level of Mr Dobbie’s involvement at B&M Law, the duties he performed and why this was not communicated to the victims of scams before they instructed your law firm. Do you regard Alastair Dobbie as having a conflict of interest ?
5. Has Alastair Dobbie or Shortlands notified the investor groups that legal advisers who were negligent in their advice to clients can be liable to compensate investors and that may include a law firm associated with Alastair Dobbie, and even Alastair Dobbie himself ?
6. Does Alastair Dobbie and/or Shortlands have any financial arrangement with Roberto Pancaldi or any of his companies to pay him any commissions, introduction fees or any other compensation relating to the introduction of clients or to the provision of services related to investments ? If so, why has this not been declared to investors who have made financial contributions for recovery action services ? If such an arrangement exists and has not been declared to clients this would raise serious questions as to the honesty and integrity of the people involved.
7. Are any parties paid any commission, introduction fee or other compensation and if so, which parties ?
8. Is it acceptable for Alastair Dobbie to write letters to investors and not sign them ? Are you aware of any occasions where he has done this ? Investors who have been duped into becoming ‘investor co-ordinators’ are being asked to send out letters under their own name when those letters were not written by them.
9. In light of the information in this article do you feel that Shortlands should now self-report to the SRA requesting them to investigate ?
We also asked whether Shortlands Law Firm was aware of any regulatory investigations involving Mr Dobbie’s conduct. They did not respond.
In our email to them we wrote “ It is unfortunate that Shortlands should find itself drawn into the murky world of unregulated investment scams and unscrupulous sales agents on high commissions, We are happy to amend any element of our article which is incorrect. We do not know the terms of Mr Dobbie’s contract with yourselves, but as he is acting under the Shortlands name it is obviously your firm which has to deal with enquiries. We are happy to publish an update / clarification once the questions have been answered. We regard the exploitation of victims of scams as a serious issue and we are sure that you do too”.
It doesn’t look like they do regard it as a serious issue. They did not answer any of the questions. Neither did they raise any issues with our published article which suggests we were spot on with our analysis.
We also sent these questions to the investor co-ordinators so that they could ask them too. We thought they would want to get answers to these questions so that they could inform the investors who they had persuaded to sign up with them. Unfortunately they also didn’t want investors to know the truth because if they ever bothered to ask the questions to Shortlands or Alastair Dobbie they haven’t passed the answers on to the investors. We have started communications with Mr Bruyniks and asked again for him to obtain answers to these questions. He has not yet confirmed whether he will do so. We believe the co-ordinators and Alastair Dobbie need to be transparent with investors.
We will provide an update very soon based on their response. We also raised the issue of Alastair Dobbie’s latest efforts in the Qualiacare case with Shortlands.
“Dear Ms Walayat
We have been informed by a Shortlands client that Alastair Dobbie has advised him Shortlands is negotiating with Robin Forster of Qualiacare to obtain a Heads Of Terms Agreement to transfer the freeholds of care homes to a select group of creditors. Mr Dobbie says he anticipates that completing within the next two weeks.
You will be aware that the FCA obtained a worldwide freezing order on all Robin Forster’s assets. He is forbidden by Court Order from entering into any agreements which might diminish any of his personal assets. This includes his companies’ assets and those that the FCA regard as assets of the administration of QCP and QCD. You will be aware that the FCA are seeking to have the freehold assets which were improperly transferred to 13 Forster SPVs returned to QCP and QCD.
Notwithstanding the fact that the transaction would be challenged by both the FCA and other creditors, for a law firm to encourage a person subject to a Court Order to enter into an agreement which would breach that Order is clearly holding both the Judge and the Court in contempt. We also have evidence of Mr Dobbie’s advice to Mr Bruyniks to lead this action on behalf of non-clients.
We asked a specialist litigation solicitor to comment on some of the communications which have been sent out by investor co-ordinators to investors. It was his view that the ‘co-ordinators’ should take legal advice from someone who understands the law because they were potentially placing themselves in a position where creditors could sue them. All creditors should remember that if things do not work out as they have been promised they may have a claim.
Our last email did finally elicit a response from Shortlands Law Firm. This is what it said:
“Please refrain from contacting us further”.
“Please refrain from contacting our clients”.
“Please remove all reference to us, our staff and our clients from your website and the public domain”.
“Please confirm your acceptance of the above and provide undertakings that you will cease and desist from all further contact with us and our clients., Please also confirm that you have removed all references as above and undertake not to make any more. We are willing to grant you 7 days for compliance”.
“If we receive the undertakings and confirmation of removal as requested above by close of business on 23rd April 2021, our next step will likely be to seek one or more Court orders to restrain your activities. We will also seek our costs for taking such action”.
This is the second time Shortlands have demanded that we do not contact their clients. We told them the first time that we don’t know their clients, but if they wanted to give us a list we would consider it. They didn’t provide one. We also noted they gave no valid reason for us to remove our articles. We have given them the opportunity to identify any errors in our reporting, but we’ve received nothing from them. It is therefore fair to assume that our report on Alastair Dobbie and his relationship with sales agents and his links to the sale and promotion of unlawful investment schemes was accurate.
We’ve asked the co-ordinators to insist on Mr Dobbie declaring his current disciplinary status to them. We will not go into specifics at this point because we are seeking clarification of some issues. We have given them 24 hours to provide the answers to these questions and others. They are the self-appointed investor co-ordinators so they have a moral and ethical duty to be honest with the investors they have persuaded to sign up with them.
Mr Bruyniks claims to represent investors who do not want to pay any more money into this scam. Alastair Dobbie allegedly represents investors who have paid £1,000 each for his services. OK, that seems clear. What hasn’t been clarified is what do the people who pay £1,000 get that those people who haven’t paid don’t get ? Why would anyone pay £1,000 if the person next to them is getting the same service for free ?
We have said many times that creditors should question Shortlands Law and Alastair Dobbie over their qualifications to represent investors in complex insolvency cases. We see no evidence that Shortlands or Alastair Dobbie has any insolvency experience. Investors should be asking the questions we raised above. If they are not satisfied with the answers and feel they were misled they should ask for their money back and instruct a specialist insolvency law firm. We can point investors in the direction of several specialist insolvency law firms, but a Google search will bring them up anyway.
If Shortlands’ clients are happy with the law firm they should at least obtain written assurance that should any deal it negotiates with Robin Forster be undone in the future, they are guaranteed a full refund. If that assurance is not given it would suggest Shortlands are not confident in their consultant solicitor’s ability to achieve a proper deal which stands up in court. It’s easy for a solicitor to get a deal with Robin Forster on paper because it suits both parties. Any deal, even one that ultimately doesn’t stand up in court, allows Alastair Dobbie to justify his fees. It also gives Robin Forster a stab at trying to remain involved so that he can earn more money too. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.
Anyone who signed up with the ‘investor co-ordinators’ should state that they do not want their vote to be used to support anyone who was involved in selling or arranging deals in the Qualiacare scam. We don’t believe investors knew they were signing up to that scenario and that they have been misled. They should also request confirmation that everything they have been told by the investor co-ordinators is true and if it is subsequently found not to be true the investor co-ordinator accepts full responsibility for any losses the investor might incur from following their advice.
They should also insist that their investor co-ordinator obtains answers from Shortlands Law Firm to the questions we asked above. These are important questions which investor co-ordinators, if they truly represent the interests of victims of the scam, should have insisted Shortlands answer. The co-ordinators must be transparent otherwise they are just part of a scam.
Finally, investors should ask their co-ordinators to confirm that they will never be asked to amend, alter, cancel or surrender their leases. The co-ordinators are carefully skirting around that issue in order to get people to hand their votes over to them. It is noticeable that neither Alastair Dobbie nor the co-ordinators have provided a breakdown of how their proposal would affect each class of investor and what they would have to do, or give up, in return.
Any investor who is offered any deal put together by Shortlands, Alastair Dobbie or the investor co-ordinators should take independent legal advice before they sign up to it. If the investor co-ordinators are opposed to ordinary investors taking legal advice on their lease positions it would be seen as a huge red flag. Giving up your vote or your entitlements without having taken independent legal advice would not be wise.
What a disaster for investors. We don’t like to see lawyers not being honest with investors. Alastair Dobbie needs to provide answers because his silence on his involvement is damaging any genuine investors who are trying to do the best they can to be fair to all investors. We believe the people who invested £4.5m for thin air are being harshly treated by the current proposal and things need to be balanced out more favourably so that no creditor is disadvantaged.
We have had some Press interest relating to what is going on in Qualiacare. We’ll see what develops.