Bonnier makes stock market return as chief executive of internet group

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The Independent Online

Robert Bonnier, the colourful entrepreneur fined for market abuse in 2004, staged his corporate comeback yesterday when he took charge of Future Internet Technologies.

The controversial 36-year-old was named chief executive of the shell company, whose shares are traded on the Alternative Investment Market.

He is now the biggest shareholder, owning 12.7 per cent of Future, which is building a communications group. His vehicle, Cold Investments, has an option to buy a further 40 million shares that would take his stake above 20 per cent.

The second-biggest shareholder, John Morley, the son of the Miss World organiser Eric Morley, was named chairman of Future.

Messrs Bonnier and Morley took an initial stake in Future during an £8m fundraising in November. At that time, Future was a clean cash shell, with no assets. Under the terms of the fundraising, they were offered the chance to bolster their stakes at a later date.

Mr Bonnier, a former UBS investment banker and co-founder of the online directories business, is no stranger to controversy. In December 2004, he was fined £290,000 for market abuse - at that time the biggest penalty imposed on any individual by the Financial Services Authority - over his dealings in the serviced office provider Regus.

Mr Bonnier filed a dozen inaccurate reports to Regus about the size of the stake held by Indigo Capital LLC, the New York-based investment company where he was managing partner, which itself was fined £65,000 over the affair.

In fact, the overwhelming majority of Indigo's interest in Regus was held in contracts for difference, which are financial instruments that give the holder an exposure to any movement in the share price but carry no authority.

Indigo claimed it might bid for Regus, sending the shares soaring and netting Mr Bonnier and Indigo a healthy profit. Mr Bonnier accepted the fine but insisted he had never intended to mislead the market.

He resigned from Indigo in September 2003 but remained an active trader. At various times he is rumoured to have held hefty, price-moving positions - either in shares or CFDs - in companies as diverse as Domestic & General, which supplies warranties for household appliances, the computer games developer SCi, the software firm Innovation and the controversial oil explorer Regal.

Under Mr Bonnier's stewardship, was transformed from an online minnow into a darling, commanding a market value of £2bn before it slid into near collapse.

His latest venture, Future, said yesterday it raised almost £50.8m by placing with investors 145 million new shares at 35p each. Future shares edged 2p higher to 51.75p.

The proceeds are to be used to build a consumer-branded "unified communications service", expected to be launched in the UK and America this year. The company expects customers to be able to switch an instant messaging session or phone call from a computer to a phone and back again. Mr Bonnier said: "It's what Google did to search and iPod did to music. There's going to be convergence in communication and ... we can make it happen."

Future is buying a 45 per cent stake in Advance Global Communications, an American internet telephony specialist, and 49 per cent of Artilium, a Belgian developer of telecoms technology. It has the option to buy the rest of both within 12 months.