Small Talk: Langbar founder wins court order over 'death threats'

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The Independent Online

The financial information group ADVFN has been forced by one of the founders of Langbar International to divulge the identities of a number of its subscribers after death threats against him were posted on one of its websites.

Mariusz Rybak, who is accused by Langbar, once AIM's biggest cash shell, of fraud, has secured a High Court order which compels ADVFN to hand over to his lawyers the identify and details of a number of its subscribers.

The Monaco-based businessman won the ruling at the end of last month, and it comes after death threats were posted on an ADVFN website by disgruntled Langbar shareholders.

The website has become a focal point for the hundreds of private investors who lost money as a result of the alleged fraud at the Bermudan-based and AIM-listed company. Subscribers to the website preserve their anonymity when posting comments by using pseudonyms, but ADVFN holds their details on a database.

Trading of Langbar shares was halted in October 2005 after an investigation by Kroll failed to locate the whereabouts of its £350m cash pile. Soon after the Serious Fraud Office was called into investigate.

Langbar, now run by the corporate recoveries specialist David Buchler, is taking action in the High Court against Mr Rybak along with Swiss banker Jean-Pierre Regli and Abraham Arad Hochman, who helped create the company, accusing them of carrying out a fraud.

Many private investors had put their life savings into Langbar before its collapse. Last year an Irishman who was reported to have lost €3m went as far as travelling to Monaco to speak to Mr Rybak in a bid to recover his money. After confronting the businessman in the streets of the principality he was arrested, and spent months in a local prison before being released to return to Ireland.

Coal company's crisis

Asia Energy revealed at the end of last week that it plans to change its name to Global Coal Management (GCM). Why, you may ask? According to the company the new name "better reflects its strategy of expanding its portfolio of coal investments on a global basis". Of course, what it really hopes to do with the change is draw a line under 2006, which has truly been an annus horribilis for the company. But that might not be so easy.

GCM's troubles started in August, when tensions over its Phulbari coal project in Bangladesh resulted in rioting and the death of one policeman and five demonstrators. The project, one of the biggest in the world, is controversial because it requires the relocation of 40,000 people over a 10-year period.

Following the violence, the Bangladeshi government halted the development. It has been in limbo ever since. Although GCM says it remains committed to pushing on with the project, it is yet to get the approval of the government to do so.

Given the political turmoil Bangladeshi find itself in at present this is unlikely to happen soon. On Thursday, the country's President declared a state of emergency to try to stop violent protests by activists demanding electoral reforms. Elections scheduled for 22 January have been postponed, and an interim government has been charged with organising a new poll. In its short history, Bangladesh has suffered crisis after crisis. Since independence in 1971, it has had 13 different heads of government and seen four military coups. The latest crisis looks set to run for quite a while.

Although GCM has tried to diversify its interests away from Bangladesh, via the acquisition of a coal interest in South Africa, this is small beer. The group's fortunes are indelibly tied to those of the South Asian country. 2007 looks set to be another turbulent year for GCM.

Breakthrough for software provider IE

Momentum is building at the software provider Intelligent Environments (IE). In September, the AIM group posted a maiden profit for the first half of its financial year. Word has it that tomorrow it will issue a bullish trading statement telling the City that its business is performing ahead of budget. Upgrades to the company's profit forecasts are expected in the wake of the news.

Alongside the trading statement, Intelligent Environments is also likely to announce a new partner contract with a large software player who plans to integrate the AIM group's NetFinance technology into its own product offering and help to distribute it.

Intelligent Environments provides software to financial institutions which enables customers to apply online for credit cards, mortgages and insurance. It counts four of the UK's top banks as clients, including a raft of organisations like Sainsbury's, Amazon and the AA. Although it listed on London's junior market over 10 years ago, only now are things starting to come together for the group. September's interim results saw it register a pre-tax profit of £200,000, compared with a loss of £200,000 in the previous year.

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