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Ian Thow Affair
Victoria group alleges big bank failed in its due diligence when lending money
ScotiaBank denies any wrongdoing

Andrew A.Duffy

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Former clients of disgraced investment adviser Ian Thow appear to be gearing up for a fight with the Bank of Nova Scotia, reminiscent of the early stages of their battle against Thow's former investment firm.

And like the early stages of the fight against Berkshire Investment Group, those clients who claim to have lost in excess of $32 million by investing in schemes Thow proffered are finding no sympathy in the halls of Scotiabank.

Scotiabank spokesman Frank Switzer told the Times Colonist the bank hasn't changed its position despite the number of clients coming forward, saying that Scotiabank did not offer any of the people involved financial advice, but only lent them money to invest with Thow.

In a letter to one of the affected clients obtained by the Times Colonist, Charlie Dougall, director of the office of Scotiabank's president, said the bank denies any wrongdoing.

"Our investigation reveals that following your request for credit from Scotiabank ... this line of credit was granted to you in good faith by Scotiabank ... although we regret any losses you have incurred in connection with investments made through Ian Thow of Berkshire Investments we believe that the appropriate avenues of recourse for you to pursue are Berkshire and Ian Thow," Dougall wrote.

The letter went on to say that "the working relationship between Mr. Thow and Scotiabank is standard practice for business professionals such as investment advisers to have informal referral relationships with a financial institution which streamlines the process for all involved. Further your dealings with Scotiabank were such that we were entitled to rely upon the representations that Mr. Thow was authorized to act as your representative."

The letter writing campaign and the lack of response from Scotiabank has become frustrating for many of Thow's former clients who know they are in for a long, hard fight.

"Everything is like that with Scotiabank. They deny any wrongdoing," said former Thow client Paul Haley, who claims to have lost $475,000. "We have no expectation they will move quickly. Right now it's just like the start with Berkshire."

Thow left Victoria in August 2005 with more than 70 creditors claiming he owed them millions. The former vice-president of Berkshire Investment Group has been living in Seattle since August 2005.

In their first battle, clients filed lawsuits against Thow and Berkshire and stoked media pressure until Berkshire Investment Group agreed to meet with them.

After nearly a year, 15 settlements were reached through mediation with 26 clients for an undisclosed amount.

Now they have turned their attention to Scotiabank, alleging the bank didn't follow proper procedures when it issued loans for questionable investments that cost them millions of dollars and left them at risk of losing their homes.

Scotiabank's role in the Thow affair seems to have been providing loans and lines of credit totalling about $5 million to as many as 15 of Thow's clients.

So far those clients have undertaken a letter writing campaign trying to get answers from Scotiabank's president and ombudsman, without any satisfaction.

In some cases, the clients allege they had little or no contact with the bank, and received their loan approvals directly through Thow. Many of them point out they were poor credit risks or had no income to pay back the loans.

Scotiabank was targeted last year by one lawsuit from a former Thow client, but could now face as many as 15 lawsuits. The client group has been talking about either filing individual lawsuits or a group action.

While each story has its own twists and turns, they all have one thing in common -- a line of credit or loan with Scotiabank from which funds were procured and transferred to Thow and his numbered companies.

The former clients allege Thow convinced them to open lines of credit with Scotiabank over the last few years, with the intent of using the funds to invest in various schemes ranging from short- term loans to contractors to shares in a Jamaican bank.

They say they were lent a total of $4.95 million by the bank, and now have lines of credit and mortgages hanging over their heads with nothing to show for it as they allege the funds were disposed of by Thow.

Many of the clients allege Scotiabank simply did not do its due diligence when handing out the loans.

According to Barry Hewko, who lost $100,000 and owes Scotiabank $50,000, he was in financial turmoil and was turned down by other financial institutions for credit cards. Hewko said Thow told him he would use his borrowing power to obtain a loan for him.

"I don't think Scotiabank checked me out at all. It's crazy. I got that loan through his borrowing power," he said.

Irving Lozier told a similar tale of not dealing directly with the bank.

"They never even talked to us. They just said 'sign here' and that was it," he recalled, noting that signature meant a $200,000 loan he now has to pay back with no income and no resources.

Meanwhile, the RCMP continues to investigate Thow, but have as yet filed no criminal charges.

The B.C. Securities Commission has set a meeting date for Aug. 30 to determine a hearing date for the former Victoria investment adviser..

That notice of hearing states that from January 2003 to May 2005, Thow is alleged to have made false representations in telling clients he was able to invest money for them in various securities. It is further alleged he used some or all of the clients' money for his personal use.

The notice alleges Thow breached the Securities Act and related rules by failing to deal fairly, honestly and in good faith with his clients, trading in non-mutual-fund securities for which he was not registered, and making misrepresentations in the selling of securities.

Thow was also in a Seattle court this month to enter into a plea agreement forcing him into drug and alcohol counselling, domestic- violence counselling and compliance with a no-contact order in return for the city suspending prosecution on domestic-violence charges.

aduffy@tc.canwest.com

see: 

 

Ian Thow takes flight