FIRST it sold pills that were claimed to make men more virulent and women thinner – but which were condemned as “dangerous” by America’s drugs watchdog.

Then it fronted for a variety of websites pushing diet pills doctors say just do not work – and a £500 electric comb it boasted could correct male baldness.

Meet Querto Services, one of Scotland’s thousands of entirely opaque limited partnerships or SLPs, the corporate vehicle of choice for unethical global internet merchandising.

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Now – months after it was first exposed – the firm has emerged in yet another online industry making headlines: binary options, where people make fixed-odd bets on financial markets.

Last week The Herald revealed that 41 SLPs were fronting these high-stakes financial gambling sites dubbed “terrifyingly deceptive” by Sir Richard Branson. We identified 22 websites fronted or supported by SLPs that had been the subject of formal warnings of international financial watchdogs.

One of those was Trade24, which was added to a warning list by the Ontario Securities Commission, in September last year.

The Canadian watchdog’s list is for “individuals and companies that appear to be engaging in activities that may pose a risk to investors”. Some countries have banned binary options outright and Israel, where many of the websites have their contact centres, is moving to shut them down.

Formal ownership, however, is migrating to other countries, especially the UK and particularly Scotland. So, too, are payment processing systems Trade24, on its site, says “some of its credit card payments are going through Querto Services”, listing the SLP’s former Edinburgh address and then addresses in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and Cyprus. The Herald asked Trade24 to explain its relationship with Querto and respond to Canadian warnings. It did not respond.

Querto’s emergence as a payment vehicle in the binary options industry has sparked concerns after the firm was linked to sex and diets pills. Britain’s watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority, has issued a blanket warning about binary options.

But it told The Herald it did not regulate SLPs, despite their use as unauthorised payments providers, including controversial peer-to-peer transfer systems. The UK Government is reviewing SLPs, partly in response to their use in the ‘grey’ internet economy.

Roger Mullin

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Roger Mullin, the SNP candidate for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, who was on the UK Parliament’s Regulatory Reform Select Committee before the General Election was called, is demanding urgent action.

Mr Mullin said: “It is blindingly obvious some of the most dangerous and insidious products and services are being traded using unregulated payment vehicles. The FCA and other regulators either turn a blind eye or ignore what is going on because they don’t fall within the ambit of regulated products. “It is entirely in the gift of the UK Government to legislate and ensure proper regulation.

“However, we know that the current UK government is intent on reducing regulations as much as they can get away with.

“This simply gives a green light to shady operators and practices. “My hope is once the inquiry into SLPs reports, we can move to ensuring there is comprehensive and meaningful regulation of all forms of payment vehicles; otherwise, the general population is put at significant risk.”

Vimax website

HeraldScotland:

The Herald last October revealed Querto Services was the billing agent for a website marketing Canadian-made pills, called Vimax. They were last year the subject of formal warnings from the US Federal Drug Administration, which claimed they may contain hidden ingredients that can be hazardous for some people taking certain medication. One website claimed the tablets were for “male virility enhancement.” Another said they would help women “flush pounds”

Sites linked to Querto – The Herald investigations have identified at least seven – often feature “free trials” and have a template very similar to those offering similar products, such as diet pills, from other SLPs.

A Querto-backed website offers free trials

HeraldScotland:

Querto Services also is named as the operator of websites offering diet pills from Garcinia Cambogia, which it calls a “miraculous weight loss fruit” and which the site claims has been scientifically proved to suppress appetite and stop carbohydrates being turned in to fat.

Querto also fronts websites selling raspberry ketones. Both products have been dismissed by NHS consultant and Glasgow University nutrition expert Professor Mike Lean, who says there is no good scientific basis to support the claims made for them.

The SLP itself is registered at a virtual office in 272 Bath Street, Glasgow, where hundreds of other such firms are also based. Its websites, however, used its old address, 78 Montgomery Street, the home of one of the most prolific hosters of Scottish tax haven firms.

Querto's registered address at a Glasgow virtual office

HeraldScotland:

There is no suggestion that UK agencies or hosts at these addresses have any involvement in the business.

Querto Services was set up in 2013. Its offshore-based partner companies, Lausanne Group Sa and Sion Holdings, were also the formal owners of Avenilla Commercial, one of the SLPs allegedly used in the Moldovan billion-dollar bank looting, according to a report by US investigators Kroll for the former Soviet republic’s parliament.

Trade24's small print

HeraldScotland: