Plus500's management were paid £14 million on the same day thousands of customer accounts were frozen

Ryan Riess, 23, a poker professional from East Lansing, Mich, poses with stacks of money after winning the World Series of Poker $US10,000 buy-in no-limit Texas Hold 'Em tournament at the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada November 5, 2013. Riess takes home $US8,359,531 in prize money for first place. REUTERS/Steve MarcusProfessional poker player Ryan Riess poses with his $US8 million worth of winnings from the Texas Hold ‘Em tournament in the World Series of Poker, 2013.

Crisis-hit trading firm Plus500 paid out $US23 million (£14.8 million) to executives on the same day it froze thousands of customers’ UK trading accounts under orders from the financial watchdog.

A final dividend and special dividend worth a combined $US65 million (£42 million) were paid to shareholders on May 15, according to company filings. Plus500’s management own 35% of shares in the business, meaning they would have taken home $US23 million of the payout.

Plus500, which is listed on London’s small company stock market AIM, began freezing customer accounts on the same day as the dividend payments went out. The freezes came after a five month long review ordered by watchdog the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) found the company’s anti-money laundering procedures weren’t good enough.

While it’s likely just a coincidence that management took the big payout just as all hell was breaking loose, they also planned the windfall while the business was being investigated.

According to a company statement, the FCA sent a “skilled person” in to check out Plus500 in early January and plans for the two dividends were announced over a month later, in late February.

While shareholders were told about the huge dividends — which when added to earlier payouts total 90% of 2014’s profits — they weren’t told about the FCA probe. Investors were in fact not told about it until three days after accounts were frozen and more than five months after the investigation began.

All this is publicly available information. (Plus500 in fact drew attention to the dividends in its statement announcing the account freezes.) But the huge windfall for management is worth looking again at, given what’s happened in recent weeks.

After news of Plus500’s account freezes broke the company’s share price nose dived. It has failed to recover and the company, which lets people make risky, leveraged bets on stocks and currencies, is in the process of being sold to gambling software maker Playtech at a fire sale price. Plus500’s biggest shareholder is opposing the deal.

A spokesperson for Plus500 said: “Plus500 is choosing not to comment on matters that it considers are not material or are speculative.”

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