In a statement on its website, the regulator named the trustees as John Garry Williams (also known as Garry John Williams) and Susan Lynn Huxley.
The pair acted as trustees to a defined contribution trust-based workplace scheme attached to company 5G Futures – a dormant company set up by Williams and Huxley, who were directors of the company as well as being scheme trustees.
Despite having no business attached to it, 5G futures lured in 529 members via introducers who would cold call or send unsolicited text messages to potential investors promising financial incentives if they agreed to transfer their pensions.
“Potential scheme members were cold called and text messaged by introducers, paid on commission by 5G Futures Pension,” revealed TPR.
As a result, the pair conned investors out of £16m to invest in “exotic sounding”, unregulated investments overseas, such as tree plantations in Fiji, Brazilian teak plantation land and fund shares based in the Cayman Islands.
“At the time of the appointment by TPR, over £16m had been invested, the majority of which was in unregulated investments overseas, and the scheme’s methods bore the hallmarks of a scam. The overall value of the investments was significantly lower (at approximately £991,000) than their initial purchase price.
“The scheme appears to have been a vehicle for pension liberation and that the trustees were aware of this,” said TPR, adding that Huxley and Williams submitted misleading statements to TPR.
The watchdog also said that the trustees charged members unnecessary fees and “acted in serious and persistent breach of trust and pensions law”.
TPR found that some scheme members below the age of 55 received cash advances or loans via introducers, while many other members had not received the payments promised to them.
In at least one case, said the regulator, Huxley arranged for a scheme member to receive a loan directly from the scheme assets.
Both Huxley and Williams have been banned from being trustees of pension schemes with “immediate effect on the grounds that neither are a fit or proper person to hold the position,” added TPR, citing a lack of integrity, competence and capability.
Nicola Parish, executive director of frontline regulation at TPR, said: “We will take tough action on rogue trustees and are calling on all pension savers, trustees and administrators to be alert to the techniques they use.
“Beware of the dangers of transferring out of reputable pension schemes to access unrealistically high returns often associated with exotic sounding investment opportunities. If an offer seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is.”