Lonrho hints that it may make fresh rights issue: Chairman faces complaints over pricing of previous cash-call

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LONRHO, the debt-ridden international trading group, may seek to raise more money from its shareholders. The hint came yesterday from the group's chairman, Rene Leclezio, during the annual meeting of shareholders at the Barbican Hall in the City.

Last December Lonrho raised pounds 170m from its shareholders in a move that gave Dieter Bock, the little- known German businessman, a 19 per cent shareholding in Lonrho. Mr Bock is now Lonrho's biggest shareholder. He shares the position of joint chief executive with Roland 'Tiny' Rowland and is mooted as Mr Rowland's successor.

During questions from the 600 shareholders present at yesterday's meeting, Mr Leclezio faced criticisms from one shareholder who complained about the terms of last December's rights issue. The shareholder said that he was very concerned that the terms of the rights issue had been set at below asset value and above the then-current market price of the shares.

Mr Leclezio said that in the future the group 'might even need a new rights issue', which he added would be set at terms that provided a 'real' discount to the market price at the time.

Mr Leclezio hit out at criticisms in the press of Lonrho's balance sheet. 'I often read unjustified press comments implying that there is something hidden, or something to hide in Lonrho's accounts. There is no black hole at Lonrho,' he said.

'Shareholders who have been saddened by the share price - and it has been appalling - can take some courage from the number of offers to invest heavily in Lonrho during the last year. Mr Bock has been following Lonrho for a number of years, and saw this dip in the results as the right opportunity for him.'

Lonrho reported a collapse in pre- tax profits from pounds 205m to pounds 80m in its last financial year. It is engaged in a rapid disposal programme to reduce debts of pounds 850m.

Mr Bock was confirmed by shareholders as joint chief executive. He said: 'I have learned much more than I know about myself from the press. I am convinced that Lonrho has a great future.'

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