Langbar calls on insolvency expert to find cash

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The Independent Online

David Buchler, an insolvency specialist who worked on the collapse of Robert Maxwell's media empire, was yesterday appointed executive chairman of Langbar International, the Alternative Investment Market-listed cash shell at the centre of a fraud investigation. The appointment raised hopes that the process of finding the group's £365m cash pile will be speeded up.

Christopher Wallis, a chartered accountant and a specialist in recovery situations, is also joining the board. He will replace Jean-Pierre Regli as finance director.

The Independent reported yesterday that Mr Regli, a Swiss banker, was recently interviewed by a Milan prosecutor looking into how missing money from the collapsed Canadian hedge fund Portus Alternative Asset Management ended up in local bank accounts.

Commenting on the new appointments, Stuart Pearson, Langbar's chief executive, said: "Having discovered the fraud within months of my joining the board, I am determined to recover as much of the shareholders' monies as possible. I have restructured the board and appointed very experienced and well-respected recovery experts to lead this process."

Mr Buchler, previously chairman of Kroll Europe, president of the Institute of Insolvency Practitioners and founder of Buchler Phillips, a firm of recovery experts, warned: "This will not be a straightforward assignment. However, we will work with the company's advisers and the appropriate authorities to determine exactly what has transpired and pursue the recovery of the company's funds."

The Serious Fraud Office was called in by Langbar last month after a search by forensic accountants from Kroll failed to find the company's cash pile. Langbar started as Crown Corporation and raised £140m in an AIM-listing at 140p in 2003. The company originally said it planned to invest in undervalued North American companies but instead secured construction contracts in Argentina worth £365m. In June last year it sold them to Lambert Financial, who acted as its partner in the region and is a major shareholder in the company. Trading in Langbar shares was halted in October after shares sales by Mariusz Rybak, one of the company's founders, raised questions about the company's assets and prompted the investigation by Kroll.

In the months leading up to the Kroll investigation, City institutions such as Merrill Lynch and Gartmore spent about £16m on Langbar shares.