BUSINESS

Former notary in B.C. ordered to pay $44 million over Ponzi scheme

01/21/2015 03:32 EST | Updated 03/23/2015 05:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - A former notary in Vancouver who allegedly spent almost a decade collecting at least $100 million from investors in what turned out to be a Ponzi scheme has been ordered to pay roughly $44 million.

The B.C. Securities Commission ruled last year that Rashida Samji defrauded more than 200 investors between 2002 and 2013.

Samji told the investors their money would earn interest in a trust account while helping to secure financing for a winery. In reality, most of the money ended up in bank accounts controlled by Samji, the commission said.

The commission issued a ruling Wednesday ordering Samji to pay a penalty of $33 million, as well as nearly $11 million to compensate investors for money that was not paid out.

"The magnitude and duration of the fraudulent investment scheme and the number of investors affected justify a significant penalty," the commission said in its ruling, which was dated Jan. 16 and released on Wednesday.

But it appears unlikely either the commission or the investors will see that money. Samji's lawyer told the commission the woman has no ability to pay.

Samji is also awaiting trial on criminal charges and is being sued by investors in a class-action lawsuit.

During the B.C. Securities Commission process, Samji admitted to the fraud.

Samji, who became a notary public in 1988, began offering investments in 2003.

The commission said Samji promised to put investors' money in a trust account, where she said it would earn interest and be used to provide letters of comfort for a B.C. winery.

In reality, none of the money was placed in a trust account and the investments were not used to help a winery in any way, the commission found. Instead, the commission said the money was mostly placed in bank accounts controlled by Samji.

It's not clear how much money the investors lost.

An audit by the Royal bank of Canada concluded Samji took in $110 million and only paid out $99 million, which the commission's executive director said left a $11-million "windfall" for Samji.

Samji claimed she kept much less. Her lawyer told the commission that, at most, she kept less than $3.8 million.

The commission said some investors lost their entire investments, while others lost significant amounts of money.

Defence lawyers suggested Samji could not pay the steep penalties ordered by the commission.

"The respondents submitted ... Samji has no current or future ability to pay a monetary penalty given her age and the multiplicity of claims against her," the commission noted in its decision.

Samji has also been permanently banned from trading securities.

Samji was arrested by the RCMP in the fall of 2013 and charged with numerous counts of fraud and theft.

Her trial was scheduled to begin next month, but it has been delayed. A hearing to reschedule the trial is set for March.

A class-action lawsuit was certified by a judge in 2013 and remains before the courts.

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