Agnew urges hard line on insider traders

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The Independent Online
REGULATORS should impose tough new penalties on insider traders, according to Rudolph Agnew, the former chairman and chief executive of Consolidated Gold Fields.

Speaking in the wake of the Department of Trade and Industry report into the failed pounds 3.5bn bid for his old firm in 1988, he said the investigation, which cost pounds 7.2m, had 'told us nothing after six years that we didn't tell them (the DTI inspectors) in the first place.'

Bidding companies should be held responsible if there is a leak, and foreign dealers should be forced to play by the City's rules, Mr Agnew said after publication of the first of two DTI reports on Thursday.

He said ConsGold was not alone in falling victim to insider trading: 'Before practically every bid there's a run-up in the shares. It means some shareholders are deprived of profits they would otherwise have made. The solution is some penalty on the bidding company that doesn't penalise innocent shareholders in the target company.' One option would be for regulators to delay bids for up to six months if insider trading was suspected.

Bidding firms often claim that it is impossible to keep rumours from leaking out because so many people have to be involved in planning a bid. But Mr Agnew said he had been involved in several offers that had been kept secret. He believed penalties would encourage other bidding firms to be as vigilant.

Last week's report found 'no evidence' that the bidder Minorco or its principals were the source of the leak, which is believed to have helped five groups of investors clear pounds 11m inprofits after buying options on ConsGold's shares.

Nor was it able to identify all the investors who profited. Only 25 per cent of the options trade were traced. The rest were dealt via banks in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Some transactions 'had no purpose other than to disguise ownership,' the report said.

Mr Agnew, who was appointed chairman of Redland last week in the wake of his successful defence of Lasmo against Enterprise Oil during the summer, said the report might have revealed more were traders not allowed to route transactions through banks that feel they have a duty to keep clients' identities secret.