By Brett Luckey for Daily Mail Australia
Updated 16:49 16 April 2023, 17:16 16 April 2023
- Former financial advisers barred from industry
- Regulator ASIC said Chris Ridgway was unreliable
- He was involved in a scheme to sell worthless shares
A former high-flying financial adviser at a high-profile asset management firm has issued a groveling apology after being banned from working in the industry by the financial regulator for fraudulent practices.
Christopher Ridgway was a senior consultant in the Brisbane office of the respected firm Shaw & Partners until his dismissal in February 2022.
A formal complaint from one of his clients triggered a company investigation that found Ridgway was secretly pouring millions of dollars of clients’ cash into unapproved investments in violation of the firm’s rules.
‘I don’t want to think of myself as a badass. But some of my actions recently have been extremely illegal… I’m ashamed and I’m sorry,’ Ridgway tearfully told 60 Minutes in an interview that aired Sunday night.
Dozens of investors were robbed of their life savings by trusting Ridgeway who claims he was ‘in the middle’ of a sophisticated international scheme that netted more than $6 billion through a complex web of shell companies.
The CEO of Shaw & Partners sent a text message to Ridgway’s wife of 35 years, Kerrylyn, telling her he was fired, and when she confronted him, she walked out on him and their three children.
He described the experience as a ‘nightmare’.
‘This was done by the person I trusted the most in the world. And, you know, decades worth of lies and betrayal, and for what?’
In addition to the dodgy investment scheme, Ridgway had forged his wife’s signature on dozens of documents dating back years – legally installing her as a director in companies without her knowledge.
‘We were just blown away, completely blind… My eldest daughter was very angry and she said, ‘What have you done? What have you done?’
‘We read what was in the text we received. He just said, ‘Oh, they don’t understand my business model.’
‘I remember him just turning around and walking out, and that was it.’
Ridgway admitted in an interview Sunday that he ‘Really only thinking about me and not the welfare of my family and my children.’
At Christmas, Kerrylyn agreed to talk to him again only to find out he was having an affair for the sake of their children.
‘It was just the second level of deception and lies,’ she said.
Shaw and Partners contacted ASIC which launched its own investigation
Last week, the corporate regulator said Ridgeway has been ‘permanently barred from any involvement in financial services’.
“ASIC determined that a permanent ban was necessary due to concerns that Mr Ridgway was not a fit and proper person to provide financial services, was not adequately trained or competent to provide financial services, and was likely to be in breach of financial services legislation,” it said.
‘From 2015 to 2021, while an authorized representative of AFS licensee Shaw & Partners, Mr Ridgway recommended to his clients to invest in a range of international unlisted shares acquired by McFaddens Securities Ltd.’
The scheme rewarded Ridgway with a 17 per cent commission for each new investor and was completely separate to his work for Shaw & Partners, with the disgraced financial adviser saying he ‘wanted to get something for himself’.
He pocketed $1.6 million in commissions, which are prohibited by law in the financial advice industry, and spent the money on flashy suits, sports cars and luxury vacations.
The glossy investment products he sold consisted of shares in companies he claimed were about to list publicly, promising his clients they would get in on the ground floor and make fortunes as the businesses ran.
But they never did.
While clients were receiving documents showing that their money was growing, in fact, their investment was worthless.
Ridgeway claims the scheme was run by shadowy international figures pulling the strings.
‘They hung me out to dry. I have been the fallen man in all this. They’re twiddling their thumbs, happy as Larry.’
ASIC said Ridgway ‘promoted international unlisted shares in pre-IPO companies including Steppes Alternative Asset Management, Trinus Impact Capital, and ASAF Critical Metals and its Australian subsidiary Aus Streaming Limited, which is now in liquidation.’
The companies are all registered in tax havens such as the Marshall Islands.
Veteran auditor Stephen Helberg was hired by those behind the scheme to run Aus Streaming Investments and it looks like a healthy proposed mining operation on paper.
But when he looked closer he realized that the business had no money and no assets.
‘The property value in Balpatra was $138 million.’
‘And as I progressed, I realized after about six months that they actually reported absolutely nothing on the assets on the balance sheet.’
He began to unravel a complex web of holdings, cross-holdings and shell companies that claimed $6.7 billion on paper – but all of which had questionable financial statements.
He quit in 2017 and called his lawyers, claiming he owed nearly $250,000 in back wages.
It is alleged that Ridgway’s conduct affected approximately 40 clients and placed approximately $3.5 million in products, which were not approved by Shaw and Partners.
Ridgway claims he doesn’t know where the money is now.
When he first learned about the scheme, he thought it was legitimate, but when he began to have doubts, he doubled down.
‘Cause you’re in so deep… you don’t really know what else to do, you know, so you cling to these ideas that it’s all going to be okay, and people are going to make money. And you stick your head in the sand.’
‘Eventually, that doesn’t work anymore.’
Shaw and Partners said Ridgway is working on the scheme, but is still looking to potentially reimburse defrauded customers.