January 15, 2006
Ian Thow is on the phone. He sounds
surprised, even confused.
"So this thing isn't dying down up there?" asks the former Berkshire
investment adviser, who left Victoria under a cloud this summer to set
up home in Seattle.
Asked whether he is surprised his high-profile bankruptcy -- 73 former
clients and unsecured creditors claim Thow owes them in excess of $32
million -- is still news, he answers quickly. "I am, yeah."
Thow has not been charged with any criminal offences. However, creditors
have many unanswered questions, including what happened to money they
believed they invested in everything from a Jamaican bank to loans for
Vancouver developers and seed shares in Berkshire.
In a series of brief phone interviews since October, when the investment
adviser first spoke to the Times Colonist in Seattle, Thow comes across
as nonchalant, sometimes cavalier, but always jocular and constantly
trying to establish control.
He sets parameters for questioning. When they are crossed or questions
get sticky, he suggests meeting in Seattle to "yak" face- to-face, then
quickly gets off the phone.
Before Christmas, despite having initially agreed to a broader
interview, he decided he didn't want to talk.
"I'm going to take a pass on it this time around," he said, after joking
he thought the phone call was to wish him a belated happy U.S.
Thanksgiving. "I just talked with my attorney and he says, 'Shut up on
He did not elaborate, although he had just found out that senior
Berkshire executives were in Victoria in November to interview creditors
to determine the extent of the scandal.
Whether it stemmed from the Berkshire probe or the ongoing RCMP
investigation into his affairs, Thow's "no comment" response was
uncharacteristic -- in previous interviews he has been forthright,
though often terse.
He has lashed out at Michael Cheevers, the Canadian trustee overseeing
the bankruptcy, for spending creditors' money chasing him in Seattle. He
has taken some creditors to task, accusing them of jumping on the
bandwagon in hopes of getting money out of Berkshire. And he has denied
doing anything wrong.
He paints a picture of himself as a man driven into a corner and
eventually out of the country.
Asked whether he would still be in Victoria doing business if one group
of former clients hadn't filed suit, he answered, "Absolutely."
That suit was the first of four involving an investment deal in the
National Commercial Bank of Jamaica, where clients wrote cheques to Thow
or his numbered company in return for shares in the bank. Those shares
appear never to have been purchased.
Responding to one of those lawsuits, Thow said the cheques were actually
written to buy block air time on his private jet.
He denied wrongdoing when it came to that investment scheme, but stopped
answering questions when asked about other deals, including a short-term
loan plan that saw clients taking out lines of credit to offer loans to
Vancouver developers, and an offering of seed shares in Berkshire, which
some clients say he proffered with the information Berkshire was
planning to go public.
In a later interview, after Berkshire founder Michael Lee-Chin met
former Thow clients in Victoria last November, Thow even appeared angry
at some of the creditors, suggesting they saw an opportunity to exploit
Berkshire to get back money they had lost on legitimate investments.
Thow's former clients say they're used to being ignored by him, but they
are still amazed by his gall.
"He always said, 'I just love you two ladies, you're my favourites,'"
recalled Shirley Garwood, 67, who along with her sister Helena Kells,
78, says Thow bilked them for $455,000. "How many ladies did he say that
too? Probably all of them."
He said it to Olga McColl, who says Thow took her and husband Douglas
for a combined $500,000.
"He said, 'I'll look after you. You've been like a second mother to
me,'" she recalled. "But he just stripped me clean and then he ignored
us when we wanted to talk about it."
Some former clients say they find themselves trying to laugh about the
"What else can we do? We're all cried out," Kells said.
"He has absolutely devastated our lives. At this point in our lives,
this is not exactly what we expected. We can barely sleep at night."
As for Thow, there are rumours he is working in Seattle at a Mercedes
dealership. There are also reports that he has been spending time in Las
Vegas, shopping for luxury cars and looking at property on upscale
Mercer Island, although that claim could not be substantiated.
A quick property search of three Seattle real-estate offices showed the
cheapest home available on Mercer Island was listed at $500,000 US and
the most expensive at $40 million US.
Thow has not returned calls from the Times Colonist for more than a
As for Thow's lengthy list of creditors, they are waiting for word from
Berkshire on the situation -- a step they hope will be the first on the
way to some kind of settlement -- while urging Cheevers to continue to
search for assets they believe Thow has hidden.