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Christopher Byrne banned by the JFSC, 4 years after being sentenced to 7 years imprisonment for financial misconduct

04/11/2022

ON THE 30TH NOVEMEBR 2018   Christopher Paul Byrne [Date of Birth: 17 June 1968] a former financial advisor and CEO of Lumiere Wealth, was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment in the Royal Court after being convicted of 16 counts of financial misconduct. Those crimes involved misleading his clients - including a an elderly French couple, a pensioner and a retired teacher - practicing as an advisor when he wasn't authorised and providing false information to the JFSC.

ON THE 04 November 2022 the JFSC issued a Public statement on Mr Christopher Paul Byrne, as follows

1 Action

1.1 The JFSC issues this public statement following the conclusion of its investigation into the conduct of Mr Byrne between October 2014 and June 2016.

1.2 During the JFSC’s investigation, Mr Byrne was convicted of several offences relating to his conduct as a financial adviser, and was sentenced on the 30 November 2018 to a seven year custodial sentence.  The most serious offence was that of “fraudulent inducement”.

1.3 As an experienced financial adviser, Mr Byrne held a trusted position but fraudulently provided clients with unsuitable and misleading advice and dishonestly facilitated a loan from a vulnerable client for his own personal benefit. Mr Byrne also conducted unauthorised business and provided false and misleading information to the JFSC, both of which are criminal offences, of which he was duly convicted.

1.4 The JFSC has concluded Mr Byrne acted dishonestly and lacks integrity. His conduct poses a significant risk to the JFSC’s guiding principles and objectives of reducing the risk to the public of financial loss and protecting and enhancing the reputation and integrity of Jersey in commercial and financial matters.

1.5 The JFSC has directed that Mr Byrne cannot perform any function for, engage in any employment by, or hold any position in, any business that is regulated or supervised by the JFSC without the JFSC’s prior written approval.

1.6 This public statement is issued under Article 25(a) of the FS(J)L, with respect to the directions issue to Mr Byrne under Article 23 of the FS(J)L.

1.7 Mr Byrne’s conduct is ineligible for a civil financial penalty as it predates the civil financial penalties regime for principal persons .

1.8 Definitions used in this public statement can be found in the glossary on page 7.

2 Background

2.1 Mr Byrne worked in Jersey’s financial services industry between 1991 and 2016. He was an experienced financial adviser and held appropriate qualifications in this regard.

2.2 In July 2014, Mr Byrne established a new investment business, Lumiere. Lumiere received its investment business license on 16 April 2015. Mr Byrne was Lumiere’s managing director, MLRO and a 35% shareholder.

2.3 Lumiere’s 65% majority shareholder was a company forming part of a global corporate group (the Corporate Group). The Corporate Group also included a Guernsey registered, closed-ended collective investment scheme (Fund One) and a Guernsey registered PCC (Fund Two).

2.4 In June 2016, the JFSC undertook an examination of Lumiere which identified serious concerns over Lumiere’s compliance with the IB Code and resulted in the commencement of an investigation into Lumiere (the Lumiere investigation).

2.5 The examination also identified concerns regarding the personal conduct of Mr Byrne. Further information compounding these concerns came to the attention of the JFSC following the examination. This resulted in commencement of an investigation into Mr Byrne’s fitness and propriety in June 2016, concerning his integrity, competence and the provision of unauthorised financial service business.

2.6 Mr Byrne’s investigation was put on hold pending the conclusion of the Lumiere investigation and to avoid any risk of prejudicing the criminal investigation and subsequent trial of Mr Byrne.

2.7 In November 2018, Mr Byrne was sentenced to a seven-year custodial sentence and disqualified for 12 years from being concerned directly or indirectly in the management of a Jersey company after he was found guilty of:

2.7.1 Dishonesty offences against several of his former Lumiere clients;

2.7.2 Providing the JFSC with false and/or misleading information; and

2.7.3 Carrying on unauthorised investment business.

2.8 A public statement detailing the findings of the Lumiere investigation was issued by the JFSC on 9 September 2020.

2.9 Following the issuance of the Lumiere public statement, the JFSC concluded the investigation into Mr Byrne.

3 JFSC investigation findings

Unauthorised financial service business

3.1 In 2014, Mr Byrne informed the JFSC that when Lumiere obtained its investment business licence, it was his intention to transfer a number of former clients to Lumiere. Mr Byrne was cautioned by the JFSC, in the presence of his professional adviser, to ensure he did not conduct unauthorised financial service business by providing investment advice to prospective Lumiere clients before it was authorised to do so.

3.2 Despite the JFSC’s caution, in June 2016, information was received to suggest Mr Byrne had provided investment advice to a number of prospective Lumiere clients to invest in Fund One, prior to Lumiere becoming a regulated investment business.

3.3 Mr Byrne advised the JFSC that he had acted as an ‘agent’ for the Corporate Group prior to Lumiere becoming a regulated investment business by introducing a number of potential Lumiere clients to it. Mr Byrne confirmed he had told the clients he was unable to provide them with any advice but assisted them with the investments in Fund One.

3.4 Despite Mr Byrne’s assertion that he had acted as an agent, the JFSC’s investigation identified that between October 2014 and January 2015, nine prospective Lumiere clients invested into Fund One as a result of investment advice provided by Mr Byrne in Jersey, prior to Lumiere receiving its investment business licence.

3.5 The JFSC investigation found Mr Byrne had:

3.5.1 Provided advice upon the:

3.5.1.1 Suitability of an investment in Fund One; and/or

3.5.1.2 Structuring of investments to suit each client’s needs.

3.5.2 Held discussions concerning each client’s risk appetite and/or personal circumstances; and/or

3.5.3 Arranged, assisted with or advised the clients to redeem an investment to release funds to invest in Fund One.

3.6 Mr Byrne received a fee of approximately £18,875 from the Corporate Group for the investment advice provided to these clients, evidencing his activities were ‘by way of business’ .

3.7 In summary, Mr Byrne provided investment advice to nine prospective Lumiere clients prior to Lumiere being a regulated investment business, when he knew he was under an obligation not to do so. Accordingly, Mr Byrne conducted unauthorised financial service business, in breach of Article 7(1) of the FS(J)L. Mr Byrne’s conduct in this regard demonstrates a lack of integrity.

3.8 Carrying on of investment business whilst unauthorised is a criminal offence. Mr Byrne was convicted in the Royal Court for conducting unauthorised financial service business.

Unsuitable financial advice

3.9 In 2014, Mr Byrne informed the JFSC that when Lumiere became regulated, it would advise its clients to invest in Fund One, offering rates of return between 9.5% and 14.25%.

3.10 As Fund One was a product of Lumiere’s majority shareholder, the Corporate Group, Mr Byrne was cautioned by the JFSC that conflicts of interest must not jeopardise his judgement in providing suitable, independent financial advice to Lumiere clients concerning Fund One.

3.11 Mr Byrne acknowledged Fund One was a high risk investment that wasn’t suitable for all clients. Where it was suitable, Mr Byrne confirmed he expected to invest only a small part of a client’s investible wealth into it.

3.12 The JFSC assessed nine recommendations made by Mr Byrne to Lumiere clients regarding investments in Fund One. All nine pieces of financial advice were found to be unsuitable in light of the client’s individual circumstances, the investment time horizons and exposure to concentration risk (in five instances Mr Byrne recommended Lumiere clients invest 50% or more of their  investible wealth in Fund One).

3.13 In terms of conflicts of interest, during the JFSC’s investigation, Mr Byrne informed the JFSC that he had entered into a ‘side agreement’ with the owner of the Corporate Group, which was outside the main Lumiere/Corporate Group business arrangement. Under the terms of this agreement, Mr Byrne was to be personally remunerated by the Corporate Group where Lumiere clients invested in Fund One. Mr Byrne failed to disclose the ‘side agreement’ to the JFSC during Lumiere’s licence application process.

3.14 Mr Byrne knew the advice to be unsuitable and gave the advice fraudulently. He was convicted in the Royal Court of fraudulently inducing Lumiere clients to invest in Fund One by:

3.14.1 Giving misleading assurances that Fund One was a ‘safe fund’ when in fact it was high risk and not suitable for the clients or in accordance with their risk appetite;

3.14.2 Concealing that Fund One was high risk;

3.14.3 Concealing that the Corporate Group was the majority shareholder of Lumiere; and

3.14.4 Concealing that he stood to gain financially from Lumiere clients’ investments by virtue of the ‘side agreement’.

3.15 In summary, despite being a qualified financial adviser and being fully aware of his obligations to provide suitable, independent financial advice, Mr Byrne knowingly provided unsuitable financial advice and fraudulently induced Lumiere clients to invest in Fund One. The ‘side agreement’ was the underlying motive for Mr Byrne’s conduct and he failed to disclose the existence of it to the JFSC at the time of Lumiere’s registration in 2015 so he could gain financially without the knowledge of, or challenge from, the JFSC.

3.16 Mr Byrne prioritised his own and the Corporate Group’s financial interests over those of Lumiere’s clients, resulting in unrecoverable investor losses of approximately £12 million. Mr Byrne acted dishonestly and lacks integrity.

Personal loan from Client A

3.17 During the examination, the JFSC reviewed the file of Client A, an individual deemed vulnerable by Lumiere in accordance with its vulnerable persons policy. It revealed that in March 2016, Mr Byrne entered into an unsecured personal loan arrangement with Client A for £1 million. Client A had surrendered two investments and partially surrendered another investment from their Lumiere investment portfolio to finance the personal loan made to Mr Byrne. Despite it being a conflict of interest, the personal loan arrangement was not declared on Lumiere’s conflicts of interest register by Mr Byrne.

3.18 When questioned during the examination, Mr Byrne provided differing accounts about the loan’s purpose. Mr Byrne eventually confirmed that the £1 million was fully invested in his own name in Fund Two as Client A was already invested in Fund One. Fund Two offered a rate of return of 23.5%.

3.19 The following day, Mr Byrne produced:

3.19.1 A copy of a loan agreement dated 21 March 2016, signed by both Mr Byrne and Client A. This copy of the loan agreement showed interest accruing at a rate of 23.5% per annum and, per an addendum, was secured against three residential properties owned by Mr Byrne.

3.19.2 A handwritten schedule of three tranches of money which Mr Byrne had received from Client A amounting to £1 million. It also showed, month-by-month, the interest that was due to Client A for the loan at a 23.5% interest rate.

3.19.3 Three ‘promissory note’ agreements in respect of three investments by Mr Byrne in Fund Two, amounting to the £1million loaned from Client A.

3.20 Mr Byrne later asserted during interview for the Lumiere investigation that he received no personal benefit from entering into the loan agreement with Client A. However, two days after the interview, Mr Byrne confirmed that:

3.20.1 The loan agreement originally entered into with Client A in March 2016 was on the basis that Client A would receive a 14% return.

3.20.2 He had altered the original loan agreement during the examination and produced an agreement to the JFSC, reflecting an interest rate of 23.5% instead of 14%.

3.20.3 He created the addendum during the examination, and not at the time the original loan agreement was entered into in March 2016, meaning the loan was in fact unsecured.

3.20.4 He had been returning interest to Client A at a rate of 14% but topped up the amount paid to reflect a 23.5% return following questions raised by the JFSC during the examination.

3.21 The JFSC’s investigation showed Mr Byrne’s final admissions concerning the personal loan with Client A were correct.

3.22 The criminal proceedings of Mr Byrne revealed that, when put under pressure from the Corporate Group for further investment, Mr Byrne persuaded Client A to sign the personal loan documentation under the pretence that it related to investing in a bond. Mr Byrne retained both copies of the document to prevent anyone else discovering the fraud. He later tried to cover up his actions by forging documents which he untruthfully said he had given to Client A at the time.

3.23 Rather than receiving no personal benefit, the investigation established that Mr Byrne stood to make a return of approximately £95,000 per annum from the loan.

3.24 In summary, Mr Byrne:

3.24.1 Dishonestly induced the loan with Client A for his own financial benefit and to avoid the collapse of the Corporate Group; and

3.24.2 He knowingly provided the JFSC with false and/or misleading information to conceal facts and pertinent information he knew would be material to the JFSC’s enquiries.

3.25 Consequently, Mr Byrne acted dishonestly and lacks integrity.

3.26 Providing false and/or misleading information to the JFSC, in contravention of Article 28(1) of the FS(J)L, is a criminal offence. Mr Byrne was convicted in the Royal Court for providing false and/or misleading information to the JFSC.

4 Conclusion

4.1 Clients engage with regulated investment businesses and experienced financial advisers to obtain suitable financial advice, placing significant trust in them. Due skill, care and diligence must be exercised when providing services to clients and the highest regard must be had to their interests. Particular care must be taken where a client is vulnerable.

4.2 Mr Byrne was an experienced financial adviser and therefore fully aware of his obligations. He was in a trusted position with Lumiere’s clients but gave misleading and unsuitable advice for his own financial gain, resulting in unrecoverable investor losses of approximately £12 million.

4.3 Despite being cautioned by the JFSC not to do so, Mr Byrne provided a number of clients with financial advice prior to Lumiere being a regulated investment business, preventing the JFSC from having any oversight of the advice provided.

4.4 To avoid the collapse of the Corporate Group and to gain further financially, Mr Byrne secured personal funding from Client A, a vulnerable Lumiere client. Mr Byrne misled Client A as to nature of the arrangement, taking advantage of their vulnerability. Mr Byrne deliberately mislead and concealed his actions from the JFSC, knowing it would be of concern to the JFSC.

4.5 Mr Byrne’s conduct poses a significant risk to the JFSC’s guiding principles and objectives. The JFSC has concluded Mr Byrne’s actions demonstrate he acted dishonestly and lacks integrity.

5 Sanction

5.1 The JFSC concluded it is necessary and proportionate to issue directions to Mr Byrne under Article 23 of the FS(J)L. Mr Byrne has also been issued with equivalent directions under the other regulatory laws and the Supervisory Bodies Law.

5.2 The directions prevent Mr Byrne from performing any function for, engaging in any employment by, or holding any position in, any business regulated or supervised by the JFSC without the prior written approval of the JFSC. The JFSC is taking this action in order to fulfil its duty to reduce risk to the public of financial loss and protect Jersey’s reputation.

5.3 Mr Byrne will commit an offence, under Article 23(15) of the FS(J)L, in the event he fails to comply with the provisions of the directions.

5.4 Any person who allows Mr Byrne to perform a function, engage in employment or hold a position knowing that such performance, engagement or holding is in contravention of the directions shall also commit an offence.

Source

A public statement detailing the findings of the Lumiere investigation was issued by the JFSC on 9 September 2020.

JERSEY FRAUD