The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has raided three residences and made four arrests in Merseyside and Greater Manchester as it announced on 21 February it is investigating Signature Group, a business that attracted over a thousand UK and international investors in the redevelopment of iconic landmarks including Belfast’s Scottish Mutual Building and the Coal Exchange in Cardiff.

The Signature Group operated for over seven years, buying up predominantly historic buildings within the UK for redevelopment into luxury hotels, residential apartments and office spaces. Investors loaned money to Signature or purchased a hotel room, apartment or office space in one of the group’s properties, with promised returns on their investment of between 8% and 15%.

The business collapsed into administration with losses of up to £140m.

Properties in the group’s portfolio included Millennium House in Liverpool as well as a cruise liner that was marketed as a “flotel” to be moored off Canary Wharf in London and travel to Ibiza.

This is the fourth new investigation launched since director Nick Ephgrave QPM joined the UK’s specialist anti-fraud agency in September.

Today’s SFO operation was supported by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

Nick Ephgrave QPM, director of the Serious Fraud Office, said: “The scheme offered attractive returns and used much-loved local landmarks to lure investors.

“We have people up and down the country left out of pocket, and buildings left derelict at the centre of our cities.

“Today’s arrests and searches will help us reconstruct exactly what happened. This is now an active criminal investigation.”