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Andrew A. Duffy

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Rumour mill is busy after financial adviser leaves Berkshire Investment Group

It's the story no one is telling, but everyone is talking about.

It's rife with lawsuits containing allegations of fraud and the misuse of funds, jetset lifestyles and what appears to be an impending Icarus-like fall to earth.

This is the unfolding Ian Thow story, a tale that has been buzzing through the Victoria business community since news of the senior investment adviser's resignation from Berkshire Investment Group became public last month.

According to Berkshire officials, Thow resigned June 1 and the company says it is investigating what it calls his outside business activities.

The 44-year-old Thow is also the defendant in a series of lawsuits that revolve around an investment scheme in the National Commercial Bank of Jamaica, and is in arbitration over a dispute with a business partner over a $3-million jet.

There are those who will tell you this story started humming quietly months earlier, but they are the same people who are avoiding public comment on Thow's position now.

But you can still hear it in boardrooms, offices and across lunch tables around the city.

People like the Goodwin family of Richmond and other Thow clients have told the Times Colonist about the lavish lifestyle he lived, about trips to Jamaica to see their investment, about lavish spreads, meetings and dinners that instilled confidence they were dealing with a man of means.

Brad Goodwin says the cars, the jets, the trips all painted the picture of a guy who could make things happen. But Goodwin and other clients have said when they starting asking for their money that picture changed.

There are three lawsuits filed in B.C. Supreme Court at this point and one in Alberta Court of Queen's Bench. There is plenty of speculation there are more to come -- some of them from Victoria and the Island.

But no one seems quite ready to talk about that yet.

One man, however, is sick of the lack of discussion to the point he has taken $10,000 worth of action.

Jurgen Weyand, who pledged $25,000 to the Greater Victoria Hospitals Foundation in five payments of $5,000, has pulled the final two payments because the GVHF will neither confirm nor deny a $500,000 pledge from Thow was ever received.

The GVHF will only cite privacy legislation that prevents it from discussing a gift or pledge without the consent of a donor.

"That goes for all donors," said executive director Melanie McKenzie, who would not confirm it was Weyand who pulled his financial pledge.

But Weyand, who wants confirmation of the pledge one way or the other, was talking.

"I'm obviously not happy," he said. "And I won't be the last (to withdraw support)."

McKenzie says the GVHF is troubled a donor has withdrawn a pledge over this issue, but stands by the policy of not discussing such a gift.

"We are deeply concerned that all this is affecting us," she said, adding a number of former and current donors have called with concerns. "Most of them have been satisfied with our response, but yes this is concerning."

The investment community is likely to be similarly touched by this story.

John Kyle, adjunct professor of business ethics at the University of Victoria, says the industry likely won't feel the sting in a story like this, but an individual firm will.

While Berkshire advisers referred all calls to their Burlington, Ont. head office, it is understood they and other firms -- like Investors Group where Thow worked before joining Berkshire -- are spending some time assuaging clients' concerns.

Both head offices of Berkshire and Investors Group did not return calls Monday. Thow's Vancouver-based lawyer could also not be reached by press time.



Ian Thow takes flight