Bock switches interests out of UK company

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DIETER BOCK, the German joint chief executive of the international trading conglomerate Lonrho, has transferred all his other business interests out of his British holding company, Advanta plc.

They have been sold to an 'affiliated company'. This is not named in accounts filed at Companies House, but it is likely to be Gouden Akker Properties, a Dutch company run by a reticent lawyer, Johannes Trapman. Mr Bock has said he has a 50 per cent interest in Gouden Akker. Mr Trapman allegedly owns the rest.

As a result of the sale Advanta plc is now an empty shell. This means that Mr Bock will no longer have to meet British disclosure requirements as far as his private interests are concerned.

Since his appointment early last year, Mr Bock has made it his avowed aim to ensure that Lonrho becomes 'more open with the investment community'.

However, this objective does not appear to extend to his other business interests, including his German properties, handled mainly by the German company Advanta AG, in which Gouden Akker is also involved.

The chief mystery concerns the precise role and ownership of Gouden Akker during a series of deals at the end of the Eighties that catapulted Mr Bock into the major league.

Some light was thrown on these events through his obligation to produce British accounts for Advanta plc. But Mr Bock has never identified certain 'third parties' referred to in these accounts who were apparently crucial to the financing of the transactions.

Now Mr Bock will only have to meet the somewhat less onerous disclosure requirements of Dutch and German regulations, which do not require full shareholding details to be put on record.

Advanta plc was set up by Mr Bock at the end of 1985. Initially, he had 75 per cent of the capital while the remaining 25 per cent was owned by Gisela Heinemann, the daughter of a store owner who had been a Bock client.

The stores were acquired by the company, as well as 100 per cent of Mr Bock's Advanta AG. Why a British holding company was chosen remains unclear, although a spokesman for Mr Bock insists that it was because of the tax considerations of his 'co-investor'.

Advanta plc's German investments were transferred to a Dutch subsidiary, Advanta Holdings BV, in 1989 and, as a result of the injection of new capital that year, its stake in Advanta AG went down to 20 per cent.

Mr Bock bought out Ms Heinemann in 1991. Advanta plc's investment in Advanta Holdings BV was sold last September for a consideration of 'not less than 1 guilder' (one guilder is worth about 36p). The 1992 accounts also reveal that a provision of pounds 7m had been made to cover the cost of selling or closing the stores, which have not traded successfully since Advanta plc's inception.

At the end of 1992 Advanta plc's 20 per cent stake in Advanta AG was in the books at pounds 18.35m, based on cost and share of profits and reserves.

At the time, Mr Bock said that his investment of pounds 135m in the Lonrho conglomerate was about half the value of Advanta in which he had an 80 per cent interest.

He made it clear he would have to borrow to finance the investment - the Independent on Sunday recently revealed that the Lonrho shares are charged to the Bank fur Gemeinwirtschaft.

He also said he was negotiating to sell 20 to 25 per cent of Advanta. Whether the sale of Advanta plc's 20 per cent to an affiliate reflects an underlying sale by Mr Bock to raise cash remains a mystery.

(Photograph omitted)