The Financial Conduct Authority said Conor Foley had provided evidence of his inability to pay the fine that it announced in July © Alamy

Conor Foley, the ex-chief executive of collapsed spread betting firm Worldspreads, has been let off a £650,000 penalty for market abuse as it would cause him “serious financial hardship”.

In a final notice published on Wednesday, the Financial Conduct Authority said Mr Foley had provided evidence of his inability to pay the fine that it announced in July, and it had “accordingly . . . imposed a public censure in lieu of the financial penalty”. Mr Foley will also be banned from taking any future financial roles, as specified in the regulator’s original ruling.

Worldspreads was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2007 but collapsed into administration in 2012 after telling regulators that it had only £16.6m in cash to repay £29.7m of client funds. According to the FCA, Mr Foley misled investors in the company and manipulated the market “in a concerted and deliberate scheme” that began even before the company floated.

In its notice, the regulator said Mr Foley was involved in drafting stock exchange admission documents that omitted key information investors needed to know about — including the fact that some Worldspreads executives had made significant loans to the group and its subsidiaries. These loans were then left out of the company’s subsequent annual accounts.

Pre-float documents failed to mention internal transactions in which certain Worldspreads subsidiaries hedged its spread betting exposures with company executives.

In addition, the FCA said Mr Foley used the spread betting accounts of two Worldspreads clients — without their knowledge — to place trades that made it seem there was more market demand from Worldspreads shares than actually existed. 

In a strongly worded condemnation of Mr Foley’s actions, Mark Steward, the FCA’s executive director of enforcement and market oversight, said: “He should have no place in UK markets.”

Mr Foley has withdrawn an appeal to the FCA’s Upper Tribunal over the regulator’s original decision. His legal representative could not be immediately reached for comment.

Mr Foley is the last of three former Worldspreads executives to be subject to FCA enforcement action. In April 2017, the regulator fined and banned the group’s chief financial officer Niall O’Kelly, and its financial controller, Lukhvir Thind, for falsifying financial information concerning client liabilities and the company’s cash position.

Mr O’Kelly had his penalty reduced from almost £469,000 to £11,900 because he could prove serious financial hardship and agreed to settle quickly. Mr Thind was fined £105,000. Both were banned from carrying out any regulated activity.

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