CITY DIARY

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The Independent Online
With the prospects of Labour tax hikes menacing, the London Marriott Hotel was crowded yesterday with financiers anxious to know more about the beautiful blue islands of the Cayman, where the tax regulations leave accountants dazed with happiness. But the authorities there are determined to refute any suggestions of sleaze associated with the island. "We are counteracting the image of drug money-laundering and little men arriving with suitcases full of cash," said Jennifer Dilbert, inspector of financial services.

However, with a staff of just 21 to supervise a total of 550 banks and trust companies, 370 registered insurance companies and almost 800 mutual funds, even Ms Dilbert, who once spent a year on a secondment to the Bank of England, admits that she is kept pretty busy.

Next, the booming clothes retailer, received a windfall yesterday from an unexpected source. Under its previous chairman, the ebullient George Davis, Next invested £15.4m in British Satellite Broadcasting, the ill-fated "squarial" channel which subsequently merged with Rupert Murdoch's Sky television. The newly-floated BSkyB, which inherited BSB's debt, has now paid back £13m of the convertible unsecured loans, much to the delight of Next, although one adviser complained wearily: "It will just fuel City speculation about plans for the cash pile."

With everyone wondering about Hanson's puzzling acquisitions intentions again, I am left speculating why the company inexplicably entertained a group of hacks and institutional analysts to a bullish presentation at the company's Quantum chemicals subsidiary last month. "It seemed like they were trying to tell us something," my colleague tells me.

Rumours are sweeping the bond and gilts desks that JP Morgan, the prim Wall Street bank, is facing a fresh round of job cuts. Although the bank has already shed some foot soldiers (about 4 per cent of its total workforce) it has so far escaped the pain suffered elsewhere. Now, after recent bad news, some generals have also been warned that they may have to fall on their swords if the markets do not perk up soon.

Ascot Holdings, the beleaguered shell once known as Nazmu Virani's Control Securities, has appointed Rodney Galpin as non-executive director. Mr Galpin was chairman and chief executive of Standard Chartered, a director of the Bank of England and a force in the Blind in Business charity. Maybe he can help lead the company out of its £173m debt restructuring problems.

The venerable Sir Bobby Charlton is joining the company of his oldest friend, Freddie Pye. Mr Pye once played right midfield for Manchester United and now heads Copper King, a Midlands copper components company with flotation plans, and is deputy chairman of Sir Bobby's great rival, Manchester City. The two met in Manchester football circles before they were both married and, on holiday in Barbados together, once risked their lives in a stormy fishing trip together. "I proved the better sailor," said Sir Bobby.

As a promoter of Japan's World Cup bid, Sir Bobby travels the world, raising support, and hopes to do a bit of business for his old crony at the same time.

"So long as we do not talk about football we are bound to get along fine," said Sir Bobby. "I may not know much about the copper business right now, but I am sure to pick it up pretty quickly."

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