Towards the end of 2009 I was approached at Hampshire Property Club one evening, and shown the overseas investment opportunities on offer from a company called Harlequin Property / Harlequin Hotels & Resorts. The brief presentation given by Peter Green from an organisation called Quadrant seemed interesting, and I was seriously considering investing, but I wanted to learn more.

When Peter then arranged for the owners of Harlequin to take over the Hilton Hotel in Basingstoke one evening to give a full presentation , and approached both us and Hampshire Property Club to help promote the event, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to learn more. Based on what I had learned from Peter though it seemed like a potentially good investment so we put up a couple of blog posts to share with our readers:

And of course I sent out a couple of emails too, to ensure that nobody missed out.

We arrived early on the evening and I met what transpired to be not Harlequin’s owner, Mr David Ames, but rather his sales and legal/admin team. I was asked to sign some paperwork in my capacity as their representative, so I could receive a (surprisingly generous) commission if any sales followed to those I had introduced. I did this expecting they would countersign and give me back my copy, but was then told that the person who must sign wasn’t there and it would be sent to me in a few days. I felt uncomfortable about this but as they had already taken my signed contract, and wouldn’t give it back, there wasn’t much I could do. After the event, and despite having fulfilled my part of the deal and numerous chases, they never did countersign and return the agreement to me as promised! Make of that what you will.

In any event people started to show up for the presentation, coming from as far away as Wales on the strength of the investment opportunities that had been promised, and in the fullness of time it started.

As it progressed, and I learned more about the “opportunity”, so I began to cringe in my seat. There was no way I was investing in this, and nor was I going to recommend anybody else to either. By way of example, here are a few of the things we discovered through direct questioning of the presenter:

  • Despite an earlier claim that “it’s all under English law” the contract was in fact to be written in English but in a Caribbean jurisdiction (and you don’t need to be a lawyer to realise that’s an important detail).
  • Their strategy of “you get a mortgage on your home to give us the money, and we’ll pay your mortgage interest for you” in fact gave them ultra-low interest rate development finance, with absolutely no capital risk on their part (that risk being carried entirely by the home owners that unwisely “lent” Harlequin the money).
  • There was no security available for any money lent to Harlequin right up until the hotel was actually built and the investor’s unit physically existed. So the investment required individual home-owners lending money to a Caribbean company with less security than we would accept for an open bridge in UK, and at a far lower interest rate, with the investor’s own home on the line.
  • All other hotel developments on these islands had now ceased as various banks had pulled the plug on them, considering them to be too high risk… and wasn’t Harlequin clever to still be developing having found a way around the banks.
  • It was impossible to determine how realistic the ultimate purchase price was, and whether it did indeed incorporate a discount such as one would expect for off-plan development in UK, or whether it was simply over-inflated to start with.
  • Rental income after the end of any income guarantee period was based on assumptions around high rack rates for rooms, and equally high occupancy rates, neither of which could be guaranteed.
  • The presenter was woefully unprepared for our style of questioning and described us as “An unusually sophisticated and intelligent audience, not like our normal audiences.”

I could go on, but that’s just from memory and without recourse to my detailed notes with names of all concerned, specific quotes etc. I remain so concerned at what I heard that much of that presentation is still clear in my mind now, despite it taking place more than 3 years ago.

By the end of the evening I knew that there was no way I was going to gamble my money in Harlequin, and I wouldn’t be recommending anybody else do so either. I wanted to publicly say more, a lot more, but on taking advice it appeared I was effectively gagged and prevented from doing so. I was also warned that Harlequin had an exceptionally good legal department, well versed in reputation management, and it would have no hesitation in coming after me if I spoke up.

I’m not a regulator, I’m a businessman, and I don’t need to be tied up in legal knots wasting money on lawyers. So I limited myself to updating this blog to remove all of Peter’s/Harlequin’s contact details, and say to that we were not recommending the investment (which, legally, is very different from saying we recommend not to invest…).

That was 3 years ago and, apart from an occasional chat with others who had attended that same presentation in which we all repeatedly expressed amazement that the whole thing hadn’t collapsed by now, little more has been said since.

But most things come out in time and now BBC’s Panorama program has got a hold of the story and was due to broadcast last week exposing everything. Amazingly that program got pulled at the last minute, seemingly due to Harlequin’s protests, as these numerous news stories explain:

There are more, as simply typing “harlequin panorama” into any search engine will reveal, but the above respected publications probably give a fair gist (and all say pretty much the same thing).

But those publications really only talk about one small incident, specifically how one individual at the BBC allegedly went about gathering (potentially true) information. So reading them alone you may feel that poor Harlequin has been slighted, and feel sympathy for them. Before you do that, take a look at the whole thing from the perspective of the good people of Barbados, who have been watching this unravel for the last couple of years. Here’s what the Barbados Free Press has to say:

Whilst not doing a huge amount about it (presumably because Harlequin’s activities are unregulated) the Financial Services Agency (FSA) has, it seems, been aware of the risk associated with Harlequin for a while – specifically in connection with SIPPS (i.e. pensions) and has been warning IFAs about this unregulated investment – as this Alert on their website shows:

It gets worse though because not only are Essex Police investigating Harlequin Property

but as of earlier this month the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has been investigating Harlequin too, and is looking to speak with anybody who has “invested” in any of the following resorts:

  • Buccament Bay in St Vincent & the Grenadines;
  • Merricks in Barbados;
  • Marquis Estate in St Lucia;
  • The Hideaway in the Dominican Republic;
  • Las Canas in the Dominican Republic;
  • Two Rivers in the Dominican Republic;
  • Garapua Beach Resort in Brazil.

You can help the SFO in confidence, and encourage others to as well, simply by following this link to their website:

If you have any experience of or with Harlequin, or any of the above resorts, feel free to leave a comment below. You can also help others by using the various social media icons below to share this blog post. This was a Public Service Announcement brought to you by Summit Finance.

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