Luxembourg link: Tracking the tortuous trail of front companies

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The Independent Online
Peter Young, the fund manager at the centre of the Morgan Grenfell Asset Management scandal, first asked his brokers, Fiba Nordic Securities for advice on setting up Luxembourg-based front companies to hide his activities in the spring of 1995.

These companies were at the heart of the manoeuvres he used to deceive his employers and the City's regulators.

Fiba Nordic, itself owned by two Luxembourg registered firms, recommended two reputable Swiss lawyers, Marco Wolf and Juerg Wyler, who ran a partnership based in Zurich. It was their task to set up a series of holding companies, for at least five of which Mr Juerg and Mr Wyler acted as directors.

But the tentacles of this secretive miniature empire stretced across the Atalntic to the British Virgin Islands. Documents obtained by the Independent show that the companies' origins rest in a British Virgin Island company called Interman Services Limited, run by Ariane Slinger, who was registered as a resident of Luxembourg. Interman Services is registed in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.

Mr Wolf and Mr Wyler declined to comment yesterday from their offices in Zurich while Mrs Slinger's telephone in Luxembourg had been disconnected.

Several months after the initial contact, in July and August last year, the first of the Luxembourg companies was established.

A typical example is Celltec Technology Holding SA, established on 26 July 1995. Mr Wolf and Mr Wyler are on the board of the company, registered as having capitalisation of 1.25 million Luxembourg francs. It was set up as a pure investment company. Other holding companies were Horten Technology, Waferprod Holding SA, and Catherineholm Holding.

Investigators believe Mr Young may have first starting using these holding companies last year when warrants he held in a company were maturing. This meant his stake in the company - thought to be Norwegian technology firm Sysdeco, would jump, probably busting the limits set on the funds ownership stake in the firm.

But, the holding companies were later used much more regulatory, probably after April this year when Morgan Grenfell Asset Managers discovered his stakes in the unlisted companies had grown too large compared with the size of his portfolio.

Instructed to reduce the holdings, he instructed the string of holding companies to buy stakes in the unlisted companies at a discounted price.

This made it easier to make it seems as if he was reducing the size of his holding as the stake is measured in terms of value.

He could then value the stakes in the holding companies, because they are unlisetd and difficult for outsiders to value, at what ever price he chose.

The trail to the maze of the companies appears to have first started unravelling in March, when his broker Fiba Nordic was linked in a magazine article as having been involved in a private placement for a Mexican firm called Solv-Ex.

Fiba Nordic alerted its regulator, the Securities and Futures Authority, to the alleged problem and the SFA asked for a list of clients involved in the deal.

One was Russ & Oil Technology, one of the holding companies set up My Young. It was also named on the injuction issued by Morgan Grenfell and the funds' trustees earlier this week to freeze his assets.

Mr Young believed in the small companies he invested and seemingly wanted them to survive. But the extent of his holdings continuing to become increasingly apparrant.

He seems to have broken Securities and Investments Board (SIB) rules and internal guidelines at Morgan Grenfell, which is discovering it owns nearly half of Ashurst Technology, a Canadian Technology firm, and under the rules of the Oslo stock exchange the asset management firm has found it owns 51 per cent.