The City Diary: First London attracts attention

Slackbelly exposes the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Square Mile
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The Independent Online

More, much more, on First London, the former investment bank which, as I wrote last week, has gone into administration.

The administrator, you'll recall, is probing a deal whereby First London's asset management business was "sold" to the mysterious Swiss Commodity Holding for £173m last October – the only problem being that while the assets were transferred, no cash has yet arrived.

This deal is complicated by the fact that many of the people controlling First London – including former Jersey bankrupt Kevin Leech, his side-kick Lee Cole and convicted fraudster Russell King – also had major roles in SCH, which has now changed its name to Coremin.

Administrator Hasan Mirza from accountants Alexander Green tells me that he is not yet satisfied that the transaction was valid and adds enticingly: "I'm aware of certain authorities that have an interest [in First London] but I can't say if that is the Financial Services Authority or more serious".

Andrew Turner, First London's last remaining director, says he does not know why any authority might be slightly curious. Maybe the missing £173m, I suggest? "I've no idea," he says. "I can't comment on that."

Fat Gatt hit in fall out

The list of First London creditors makes fascinating reading. They include advisers such as law firm CMS Cameron McKenna (owed £103,633.81) and loyal PR outfit, Tavistock Communications (£83,628.35 out of pocket).

Meanwhile, former director and US lawyer, Andrew Cosentino, and Turner seemed to have escaped without being owed a cent, while my eye's also caught sight of a debt of £17,457 due to roly-poly former England cricket captain and the bank's "sporting ambassador", Mike Gatting.

Poor old Fat Gatt. He may need to cut down to three squares a day.

Yeo ducks the £173m question

Tim Yeo, the former Tory minister and sitting MP for South Suffolk, was another who was a director of SCH and First London, until he resigned in March. As a man with knowledge of both companies, does the chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee have a view about where the £173m is?

"I've got nothing at all to say," he dodges.

But doesn't he feel any responsibility towards worried shareholders?

"I can't comment," he ducks, before cutting me off completely.

I'll just have to tap his phone.

Charity begins with rich friends

Merrill Lynch banker Simon Mackenzie Smith is driving a 1929 Model A Ford from Peking to Paris. No, it's not another expenses purge at an investment bank, but a challenge which has seen him raise more than £50,000 for a skin charity. It's a good effort, but it helps when you can call on support from a certain class of pals. His backers include: serial chairman John Lovering (£500), banker Matthew Greenburgh (£300), Tony Blair's favourite businessman Sir Bill Gammell (undisclosed), and former Cadbury chairman Roger Carr (£150).

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