Small Talk: Revealed... colourful past of the Baltic Barracuda

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The Independent Online

The latest hoohah at Langbar started when Mr Rybak sold shares at prices between 55p and 65p. This unsettled many investors as the company claims to have more than 220p a share of cash in bank accounts in Brazil and the Netherlands. Although Small Talk could not get in contact with Mr Rybak, former colleagues revealed a colourful business past. The 52-year-old former executive chairman and founder of Langbar is a Canadian citizen who lives in Monaco.

It emerged that his one and a half years at the helm of the group, originally called Crown Corporation, were characterised by a series of disputes with the company's shareholders. The largest of these investors was Lambert Financial, an investment company for some 2,000 Jewish families from all over the world. Led by Dr Abraham Arad, a former adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister's Office, Lambert quickly became dissatisfied with Mr Rybak. An early dispute came over Crown's failure to issue it with the 41 million shares it had bought at the float. This entitled Lambert to a 59 per cent stake in the company.

Lambert, along with the majority of other investors, also became impatient with the lack of action at the company. Although Lambert helped Crown win a series of construction deals in Argentina and Brazil, Mr Rybak never visited the region on the company's behalf. Investors also became concerned at the expenses being run up by the businessman. The most substantial of these was the private jet Mr Rybak had hired on the company's account. Given Crown was still a mere cash shell, it is no surprise that its shareholders viewed such an arrangement as excessive.

In the words of one shareholder: "It was not long after the float that we and others became concerned about the way Mr Rybak ran the company." A further dispute followed when, after one year at Crown's helm, the businessman tried to award himself a significant management fee in addition to the €180,000 per annum salary he received as executive chairman. This request came at a time when Crown still had no operating assets. It was over this issue that the company's broker, Insinger Townsley, resigned in 2004.

Small Talk has been told that Lambert Financial became so concerned about Mr Rybak's activities that it compiled a dossier detailing his actions in the company's name with the help of international authorities.

Mr Rybak settled in Canada during the early 1980s but is originally from the seaport of Gdynia on Poland's Baltic coast. He trained as a scientist, securing a doctorate in environmental engineering from a technology institute near Gdansk. After a number of teaching posts in Canada, he built up a technology firm in Ottawa during the 1990s where he became known as the Baltic Barracuda for his aggressive business style.

After a slew of acquisitions, he floated IDS Intelligent Detection Systems, which specialised in chemical detection technologies, on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 1997. However, he was forced to resign as chief executive of IDS in May 2000 amid mounting losses at the company, which a year later went into receivership. Strangely enough, Crown's 2003 IPO prospectus failed to mention Mr Rybak's stewardship of IDS.

2ergo bullish on placing

Small Talk hears that 2ergo, the Lancashire telecoms technology group, is close to tying up the fund raising we wrote about last month. The placing has been scaled back somewhat, however, and the company's founders, Barry Sharples and Neale Graham, have abandoned plans to sell some of their own 54 per cent holding at the same time. There is nothing that makes fund managers so nervous as seeing directors passing through the exits just as they are putting new money into a company.

2ergo's software and hardware sits at the centre of internet, fixed line and mobile phone communications, enabling new ways for businesses to interact with their customers. Services such as text message weather alerts, interactive games and bulk e-mails for internet marketing all pass through the system, and mobile commerce - things like text message gambling, shopping and road toll payments - is being developed by several of 2ergo's customers. A trading update last month revealed the company was outstripping even the market's most optimistic forecasts, so results today should be bullish. Expect a placing of about £2.5m to fund further expansion.

Touchstone re-rating

Slowly, Touchstone shares look as if they might be getting a re-rating. Touchstone is a software and IT services company which supplies and installs finance, admin or customer relationship software to more than 1,400 businesses. It has faced a struggle to move from low-margin "re-seller" business, where it takes an ever-diminishing cut from selling on other people's software, but the most recent results showed more than 80 per cent of revenues now come from higher-value services, such as consultancy and training. Keith Birch, the managing director, agrees that there is "still much to do" in the rest of the financial year, but the record interim profits reported last week stand it in good stead.

Cartucho aims to raise £10m in AIM listing

Cartucho Group develops and makes printer ink refill kiosks and it will unveil plans today to list on AIM. Dealings in the group's shares should start next month, by which time Cartucho hopes to have raised £10m.

Its kiosks enable retailers to refill consumer's ink jet printer cartridges on site. Cartucho claims that its service takes minutes and results in major cost savings to consumers with no compromise on quality. It has already signed a major contract with OfficeMax, the third largest office supplies chain in the US, to roll out its kiosks.

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