Judge nullifies 12 equity release mortgages worth six million euros

Sur in English
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Court of First Instance 11 in Bilbao has ruled that twelve mortgage loans valued at six million euros, granted to British families mostly in Malaga province between 2004 and 2007, should be declared void.

The case was dealt with in Bilbao as all loans were granted at a notary in the city, and the representatives of the lender, SL Mortgage Funding nº1 Limited (SLMF), were also based in the Basque city, according to Lawbird Legal Services SLP.

These loans were sold to attain a reduction in potential inheritance tax, inasmuch as the mortgage would reduce the taxable value of the property, but also to supplement the modest pensions received by the owners of the properties.

SL Mortgage Funding nº1 Limited (SLMF), based in Chester (UK), had not applied for the necessary regulatory permits to legally raise funds from the public and provide an investment service – activities reserved and regulated by the Bank of Spain and the CNMV (financial regulator).
In spite of not having any of the above authorisations, SLMF would lend but at the same time retain most of the proceeds of the loan, which would then be invested by the company.

The ruling declares that “infringing the protocols set by the relevant administrative authority to supervise the disputed product is a regulatory violation that exceeds that of a mere breach of banking laws, such as misselling, so profusely dealt with recently in relation to the massive sale of complex financial products.”

The judge who presided over this case concluded that the breach of public policy “is far more serious” as it made a mockery of a whole system of financial and banking supervision designed to prevent abuses to consumers and protect the stability of the sector. He likened this behaviour “civil fraud”, which is any proposal that contravenes mandatory regulations or has a false or forbidden reason.

The sale of this product was conducted via commission-earning financial advisory firms (Hamiltons Financial Services, Henry Woods Investment Management and others), based in Estepona, Marbella and Fuengirola. SLMF also recommended a network of lawyers which would downplay the extent of the lack of licensing requirements of the bank and the product.

According to Lawbird Legal Services SLP, working on behalf of the claimants, the ruling confirms that “operating in breach of mandatory banking and financial regulations makes the offender a ‘boiler room’, even if the company was legally operating in its own country”. It also allows the victims to “end the nightmare” which has blighted the victims for over ten years.

The judge concluded by saying that all contracts and agreements executed between the clients and the bank should be terminated, but also applied the laws of contractual termination in a novel way with the clients able to claim back everything they had put in without having to return what was given to them.”

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