'Gambler' holds 25% stake in Christies

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The Independent Online

Joseph Lewis, the man who has taken his stake in Christies, the fine art auction house, to more than 25 per cent this week, is known to his friends as an enthusiastic gambler. "He just loves gambling. He'd bet on two flies climbing up a wall," one friend said yesterday.

He is said to be a heavy investor in the currency markets, where he takes large speculative positions and he is also said to be keen on betting on American football. Some of his friends say he is wealthier than the legendary currency speculator, George Soros.

Christies yesterday confirmed that Mr Lewis had increased his stake in the company to 25.32 per cent and later said it was in regular contact with its largest shareholder.

Peter Blythe, finance director, said Christies was in regular contact with all its large shareholders, including Mr Lewis.

Asked if Mr Lewis's investment had put the company on bid alert, Mr Blythe referred to a statement made recently by one of Mr Lewis's representatives. This, he said, had suggested his investment was a friendly, rather than unfriendly, one.

"He has bought over the last 18 months and the share price is higher now than for most of that period," Mr Blythe said.

Mr Lewis, who is London-born but Bahamas-based, has added 12 million shares to his 41.5 million holding in the past week. When he first started buying shares in Christies, he picked them up at around 150p through the small London brokers, Hargreave Hale. Yesterday they traded unchanged at 213p.