The director of Universal Wealth Preservation (UWP), which collapsed taking the life savings of hundreds of people with it, has been jailed for eight months.
A large number of people who had entrusted their money to UWP believing they were protecting their estates from care home fees and inheritance tax, have been left unable to access their money or sell their own homes.
Wards Solicitors, like many other law firms up and down the country, is currently assisting a number of former UWP clients.
Steven Long was sent to prison last month (December 2018) for 29 counts of contempt of court after failing to fully comply with an order to provide information to help track down a missing £25 million so it can be returned to his former clients.
He appeared in the High Court to face allegations of breaching court orders, failing to provide bank statements and failing to disclose his assets worldwide.
Although Long, whose assets have been frozen, has been investigated by police he is not facing any criminal charges. Alleged victims have brought 27 civil damages claims against him with their lawyers pointing to ‘cogent evidence’ of a ‘massive fraud’ against ‘hundreds of victims.’
Barrister Oliver Hyam told the court: “Large sums of money…cannot be located by the settlors or beneficiaries of a number of trusts. Overall, around £25 million is thought to be missing.”
Long, who is said to own valuable properties in Mexico, is accused of using the money to support his businesses and transferring millions abroad where the funds have disappeared.
Victims ‘desperate to know what has happened’
Judge Mrs Justice Rose said: “The claimants want to know what has happened to the very substantial sums they entrusted to Mr Long and his colleagues.
“In some cases they handed over all of their savings. I am sure they are desperate to know what has happened and to see if it is possible to salvage any of that money.”
Long’s barrister, Vivienne Tanchel argued that he had not breached the court orders because he was unaware of their existence. She said he had mental health difficulties and had attempted suicide earlier this year which might have caused ‘forgetfulness’ about his Mexican assets.
For many months now, there have been growing concerns about Ipswich-based UWP. It is thought that as many as 8,000 people could have been affected across the country.
This unregulated company, which ran seminars locally in the South West, encouraged clients to transfer the ownership of assets including their homes and savings into trusts set up by UWP to supposedly protect themselves against possible future care home fees and inheritance tax.
Companies under the Universal group umbrella, there are around 13 related firms, offered packages of documents which usually included Wills and letters of wishes, Lasting Powers of Attorney, wealth preservation and family trusts with letters of wishes. All the companies went under in 2018.
The Society of Estate and Trust Practitioners (STEP), the professional association for practitioners specialising in family inheritance and succession planning, has received an unprecedented number of enquiries about not only Universal Wealth Preservation but also Universal Tax Solutions, Universal Asset Protection and Universal Trustees.
In October 2018, it permanently excluded Long as a member after he was found to be in breach of its Code of Professional Conduct. Police in the East of England are continuing to investigate allegations of fraud relating to the Universal group of companies.
To read what else we have written about UWP, please see the articles below:
Please contact Wards Solicitors’ Partner and specialist trusts adviser, Mary Harty, for more help and information.