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THE pensions watchdog yesterday slapped a record fine on an investment group who mis-sold packages to customers.

The Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society were ordered to pay fines worth pounds 900,000 and they must also compensate customers.

The Personal Invest-ment Authority, which imposed the fine, said the society had mis-sold products to customers, failed to recommend suitable investments and in some cases had sold customers duplicated policies.

The Liverpool Victoria also broke PIA rules by appointing unsuitable advisers and not conducting sufficient checks to ensure that salesmen were "of good character".

It failed to monitor or train advisers and employees to ensure they met guidelines laid down for selling pension and investment products, the PIA said.

The fine far outstrips the previous highest disciplinary penalty - pounds 600,000 - which was imposed on Sun Life of Canada last year.

The board of Liverpool Victoria acknowledged the action and apologised to members.

A spokesman said any members or customers affected would be contacted and, where appropriate, be fully compensated.

The group had made strenuous efforts, since the failings were brought to light in September 1997, to safeguard members' interests, including radically overhauling procedures.

Group chief executive Roy Hurley said: "This has been a difficult and painful period for the Liverpool Victoria group."

Microsoft chief's `threat to rivals'

A MICROSOFT executive threatened to "smother" rival Netscape, the US Government claims.

Paul Maritz planned to do it by discouraging other firms from distributing Netscape software.

And his scheme included illegally driving down their share price, US District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson was told.

Mr Maritz replied: "We were trying to compete with them in every way we could.

"If that had an effect on them, it was an inevitable consequence."

The exchanges marked an abrupt change from the recent dry testimony which has dominated the Justice Department's anti-trust action against Bill Gates' software giant.

Department lawyer David Boies sometimes grabbed his lectern and leaned toward Maritz in his most aggressive questioning in more than 12 weeks of trial.

But Maritz rarely gave an inch, frequently offering calm but lengthy responses and entirely different interpretations of e-mails the government is using as evidence.

As part of its case, the government accuses Micro- soft of trying to "crush" Netscape after they rejected an illegal offer to divide the market for Internet browser software during a disputed meeting in June, 1995.

Boies showed Maritz sworn testimony from Intel Corp executives, who said Maritz pledged to "embrace and smother" Netscape.

"I'm testifying that I have no recollection of saying that," Maritz replied.

Buy-up boost for WH Smith sales

THE takeover of Scots retail chain John Menzies helped WH Smith buck the downturn on the High Street.

The company also reported a 170 per cent increase in sales from their Internet bookshop.

London-based WH Smith bought over the 230-strong network of Menzies newsagents and bookshops last May in a massive pounds 68million deal.

That helped push up sales of the new owner by two per cent over Christmas and New Year.

Analysts said it was a good performance against the four per cent drop in sales seen by Marks & Spencer.

But WH Smith said 1999 would be "tough" for retailers.

Despite the takeover, WH Smith have decided to retain the Menzies brand on its 90 outlets in Scotland, which employ around 2000 staff.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Caven, Bill
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 28, 1999
Next Article:VOICE OF SCOTLAND; Scots won't be losers.

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