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Cardcast under scrutiny

The Stock Exchange will examine this week whether Cardcast, the credit card fraud detection group, misled the market by issuing a factually incorrect statement.

In an announcement transmitted last Tuesday over the Stock Exchange's Regulatory News Service, the official channel for price-sensitive and significant announcements, the company said it had signed a deal with French bank Credit Mutuel.

But on Friday, Daniel Woehl, a Credit Mutuel executive responsible for the deal with Cardcast, said: "I can confirm that we are working on an agreement, but we have definitely not signed one yet. They will have to wait."

Part of Cardcast's statement read: "The UK's foremost supplier of plastic card fraud prevention services, has signed a two-year agreement to provide hot card files to Credit Mutuel, the leading French bank."

Nigel Whittaker, Cardcast's non-executive chairman, was unavailable for comment. But Graham Pouley, the finance director, said that whether a contract had been signed "depends on what you call a contract. As far as I know, we have an agreement between two parties." He added: "If this agreement turns out not to have been signed, it would be of concern to us and to our shareholders. Obviously we are aware of our responsibilities as directors, and they are not taken lightly."

Mr Woehl said Credit Mutuel had developed a good relationship with Cardcast and its rival Card Clear. He hinted a deal may be "only a week away".

The news will add to mounting concerns of a lax approach among some Alternative Investment Market-listed companies and their advisers. The rules governing issuing information for AIM companies are the same as for fully listed companies. Companies must announce any price-sensitive information, and their statements must be factually correct.

Press comment has seized on the rivalry between Cardcast, and its competitor, Card Clear. Although both companies share similar technology, Cardcast's shares are less highly rated than those of its rival, which has yet to make a profit. Cardcast was admitted to AIM in April at 85p a share through a placing. Its shares closed at 80p on Friday.