Jeremy Warner: Horlick applies the due diligence to herself


Outlook Well there's a thing. The mystery bidder for Bramdean Alternatives turns out to be none other than Nicola Horlick herself, the "super-mum" who already manages the fund.

Bramdean originally disclosed that it had received an approach as long ago as April, but apparently it has taken until now for Ms Horlick to conduct the necessary due diligence on herself.

You would think that Ms Horlick knows better than anyone where the bodies are buried, making the due diligence an almost farcical charade. On the other hand, her backers, whoever they are, have good reason for caution. If the same high standards of due diligence as are now apparently being applied to Bramdean had also been applied to Bramdean's investment in Bernie Madoff, the company might today be in a rather better place than it is.

Bramdean was launched around two years ago to tap into the then fashionable alternative investment sectors of private equity and hedge funds. Then came the credit crunch, and to Ms Horlick's eternal embarrassment, the revelation that she'd invested a large part of the company's money in Bernie Madoff.

Vincent Tchenguiz, Bramdean's biggest investor, went ballistic. Ever since, he has been demanding that the poorly performing fund be wound up. This is hardly the first time the fund management industry has been accused of charging investors obscenely large fees for losing a substantial part of their money. Much fund management has always been a bit of a racket.

But the personalities make this one a rather more tempestuous affair. While the insults fly, the two bizarrely continue to occupy the same office bloc on London's Park Lane. It's not yet been disclosed how much Ms Horlick plans to bid, or even if she genuinely has the money, but if it is less than the wind-up value, it's hard to see why Mr Tchenguiz would accept, and if it is more, then it is equally hard to see why she's bidding in the first place other than wounded pride.

In any case, Ms Horlick's position is riddled with conflict of interest. Investors were hoping that the mystery bidder was a big hitter capable of offering value for money and ousting the discredited Horlick. The fact that it is the manager herself is, to put it mildly, something of a disappointment. Can Brian Larcombe, Bramdean's supposedly independent chairman, be trusted to do the right thing by shareholders? We'll see.

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