Troubled Harlequin faces investigation by Insolvency Service
The Public Interest Unit of the Insolvency Service is looking into the administration of the sales arm of Harlequin Property, IFAonline understands.
Harlequin Management Services (South East) filed a notice of intention to appoint administrators at the High Court of Justice last month, as part of a "restructuring" of the business.
The intention is to appoint Shipleys as administrator, according to a court document which was signed by Carol Ames, wife of Harlequin director David Ames and also a director of the company.
However, IFAonline understands the case has now been referred to the Insolvency Service.
The Service's Public Interest Unit deals with 'provisional liquidations'. At any time after a petition to wind-up a company has been presented, the court can appoint a provisional liquidator to take control of the company.
The usual function of a provisional liquidator is to protect the company's assets and records until the court makes a ruling on the winding-up petition.
An official receiver from the Public Interest Unit is usually appointed provisional liquidator following an investigation by the Insolvency Services' Company Investigations team.
Company Investigations deals with complaints made by members of the public about the way a company is trading.
Harlequin has consistently denied any wrongdoing, and has blamed negative publicity for the company's problems.
The Harlequin Property scheme - which investors have put about £200m into - has been dogged by difficulties in recent months.
Last month the company, which is at the centre of a Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation, lost its second auditor in under three years.
The SFO has launched a joint investigation with Essex Police into complaints in relation to the Harlequin group.
IFAonline revealed weeks ago that Harlequin is having "severe" problems issuing payments due under the terms of its agreement, with some investors having payments missed for months.
Under the terms of its agreements with investors, Harlequin pays the interest on borrowings where investors have re-mortgaged their homes to invest in a Harlequin property in the Caribbean.
The interest is supposed to be paid until the completion of the off-plan property the investor has invested in.
Harlequin Property was also the subject of an alert by the Financial Services Authority (FSA), in which the regulator issued a warning to financial advisers about investing clients' money in Caribbean property through Harlequin.
The FSA has also contacted self-invested personal pension providers asking them for details of members' holdings in Harlequin.
A spokesperson for Regulatory Legal, which represents more than 1,000 Harlequin Investors, said: "Clearly any development of this nature would be of deep concern to investors."
Harlequin did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.