'Bigger fish to fry': FT editor raps watchdog over Interbrew affair

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The Independent Online

Andrew Gowers, editor of the Financial Times, has criticised City regulator the Financial Services Authority for its handling of the legal battle over leaked Interbrew documents.

Andrew Gowers, editor of the Financial Times, has criticised City regulator the Financial Services Authority for its handling of the legal battle over leaked Interbrew documents.

The Belgian brewer took the FT, as well as Reuters, The Times, The Guardian and The Independent, to court two years ago to try to force them to hand over the documents. These detailed a possible bid for London-listed rival South African Breweries, which the newspapers reported.

The FSA launched its own investigation to find out who was the source of the leak. It argued that the share price of both companies had been distorted.

In September, it confirmed it was dropping its two-year probe, admitting to "difficulties" in unearthing the source.

It was seen as a test case for the expanded powers it took on in December 2001 to crack down on stock market abuses like insider trading. The FSA can now impose unlimited fines on regulated companies and can take criminal action against them in the courts.

Speaking to The Independent on Sunday, Mr Gowers said: "It would be a disservice if the FSA enforced the rules [on financial reporting] as much as some people say it should. There are bigger fish to fry and worse abuses going on."

The media groups defied a court ruling won by Interbrew ordering them to hand over the documents. They argued that it would breach their duty to protect their source.

There had been fears that Interbrew lawyers would seek further legal action against the media groups. Mr Gowers revealed that he was once asked on a radio programme whether he had packed his pyjamas and toothpaste "just in case".

A spokeswoman for the FSA said: "Difficult decisions have to be made sometimes. The issue was never about the newspapers. What we were interested in was whether companies' share prices had been distorted." She declined to comment on whether the FSA would now handle a similar case in a different way.

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