Some customers of a Richmond Hill, Ont.-based education savings plan company say they’re having a tough time getting at their money.
“What if it’s not there and that’s why they’re stalling, that’s what I’m worrying about,” said Sebastian Kidston in an interview after contacting Global News for help.
He and his mother persistently tried to reach Global RESP Corp. and its related fund manager, Global Growth Assets Inc. (GGAI), founded and owned by Sam Bouji, also known as Issam El-Bouji.
For months, some customers have complained online that staff at the Global group have not returned phone calls or been responsive to their requests for help.
In March, the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) reached a settlement with Global and Bouji after the regulator alleged “repeat misconduct” by Global and Bouji for a series of compliance violations dating back to 2014.
In the settlement, GGAI agreed it “shall not permit Mr. Bouji or other members of the Bouji family to provide any service of any kind … or to participate in the operation of management of GGAI.”
Bouji was “permanently banned from acting as a registrant and an officer and director of any registrant or reporting issuer in Ontario,” acccording to the OSC. In addition, Global RESP agreed to surrender its registration in Ontario and not to enrol any new subscribers in the plans.
For two decades, parents have received persistent marketing from companies like Global RESP, frequently in the days after returning from the hospital with a newborn.
“When you have a new child everyone is calling you because they want to sell you this RESP,” said Antonietta Bove, who signed up for a Global RESP after her son Sebastian was born.
Sebastian is a first-year student at Ryerson University who is entitled to receive more than $18,000 from the company. However, the mother and son said their efforts to draw money from the account proved impossible.
“What I really want is somebody to contact me and tell me what’s going on, what’s going to happen to the money,” said Antonietta.
Global News attempted to reach the company through its public phone number without success, as other investors had reported. A visit to the firm’s headquarters also yielded no results. But hours later, the company’s chief compliance officer replied and agreed to an interview.
“We are open for business,” said Daniel Kratochvil, who added that most of the company’s staff is working remotely.
He said he sympathized with anyone who might feel worried about their deposits under the circumstances.
“It’s a completely understandable concern for a client,” Kratochvil said, explaining that the company is working as quickly as possible to answer customers’ questions.
As a result of the OSC decision, the regulator said in a press release that GGAI is “permanently banned from acting as an investment fund manager for any funds other than the funds it currently manages.” As well, the man behind the company’s inception must stay far away.
“I’ve had to put out a policy that targets the Bouji family as not being able to have any direct involvement with the business and we abide by that and have controls to ensure that’s in place,” Kratochvil said.
Sam Bouji now runs another company, Beauty Nut, which imports hair and skincare products.
As for the money owed to Antonietta and her son, the day after their interview with Global News the RESP company made a direct deposit to Sebastian’s bank account for the full amount to which they’re entitled: $18,128.88.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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