Small Talk: Easier shareholders battle while SFO launches inquiry

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A spokesperson for the government department told Small Talk: "There is an ongoing investigation into Easier." Officers from the SFO are believed to have interviewed a former shareholder, who is helping them with their inquiries, just 10 days ago.

In the meantime, the battle being waged by dissident shareholders to remove the company's directors rages on. Investors want to get rid of Brian Copsey and John Strachan. The duo are appointees of Fulton Partners, an offshore company that has controlled Easier since acquiring a 25 per cent stake back in September 2003.

The dissidents, led by Neville Buch, the founder of exhibitions organiser Blenheim Group, now part of United Business Media, have called an EGM for 8 May and plan to install their own team of directors.

A similar effort of theirs to end Fulton's stranglehold over Easier failed in May 2005 when a last- minute boardroom reshuffle by the offshore company put Mr Copsey and Mr Strachan in control. To prevent another such manoeuvre this time around, Mr Buch has put forward a resolution that stops Fulton appointing any new directors and thereby retaining control of the company.

Mr Buch claims he speaks for 65 per cent of Easier's shares and is confident of winning a vote. Since the EGM was called, Mr Copsey, who is also a director and shareholder of Fulton, has proposed to wind up Easier and return the £5.4m (worth around 22p-a-share) to shareholders.

The dissidents will only agree to this if a well-known firm handles the liquidation, says Mr Buch. Naturally, he is sceptical that Mr Copsey's proposal will come to anything. And rightly so. A year ago Mr Copsey promised to have Fulton buy the 75 per cent of the company it does not own at 22p and thereby settle the dispute.

Yet this offer came to nothing. As has the promise finally to publish a set of accounts - Easier lacks audited accounts for 2003 and later years. Mr Buch said: "We want a liquidation of the company with no escape clauses."

And so the dissidents plan to press ahead with their EGM. Once they have control of Easier they hope to locate the £5.4m of cash and return it to all shareholders themselves. Given Mr Copsey's past failure to live up to his promises, this is by far the best solution.

Turning metal into gold

AIM certainly has its fair share of exotic companies. However, the award for the most exotic must go to Metal-Tech.

The Israeli based company, which floated on the junior market in May last year, can be described as a modern alchemist. It turns the waste products from mining and the oil industry into valuable metals such as tungsten and molybdenum. These commodities are then sold and most commonly used to make stainless steel and cutting tools.

On Wednesday, the group will post its maiden full-year results and they will not disappoint. Analysts are expecting revenues of about $110m, up from $59m in 2004, and for profits to double to more than $20m.

Metal-Tech was bought and turned around in the mid-1990s by its current chairman Aik Rosenberg. He built up the company's expertise by taking advantage of the significant influx of Jewish scientists from the former Soviet Union into Israel at the end of the Cold War.

Many brought with them huge knowledge and years of research conducted under the Soviet system and never properly used let alone commercialised.

Along with its plants in Israel, Metal-Tech has set up operations in Uzbekistan and in Mongolia. These run alongside existing mines in the mineral-rich Central Asian countries that produce a steady stream of waste products for Metal-Tech to refine.

From its float last year, the group raised £10m. It hopes to use this cash to build more plants in the coming years.

Hood AIMs for online float in May

David Hood, the founder and former chairman of Pace Micro Technology, will start marketing his latest float this week.

Infoserve, which has developed a wide range of online marketing products, hopes to raise up to £9m and expects to have its shares trading on the Alternative Investment Market by the end of next month.

Derek Oliver, a former head of Pace software engineering, is Infoserve's operations director.

The equity fundraising is being handled by WH Ireland, which should have little trouble completing it because the online advertising market is booming. This was underlined by last week's record results from themutual.net.

Analysts say the industry is growing at 20 to 30 per cent a year and forecast this trend to continue for some time to come.

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