'Viz' finance director fined in insider dealing case

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The Financial Services Authority yesterday handed out its first penalty for "abusive dissemination of information", slapping a £15,000 fine on the former finance director of I Feel Good Holdings, which owned the comic Viz, for passing inside information to a friend.

The Financial Services Authority yesterday handed out its first penalty for "abusive dissemination of information", slapping a £15,000 fine on the former finance director of I Feel Good Holdings, which owned the comic Viz, for passing inside information to a friend.

Jason Smith, who now works as an analyst for Sir Richard Branson, was landed the fine after the FSA discovered that his friend, Robin Hutchings, had used inside knowledge to make a profit by trading IFG shares in the days leading up to the company's takeover in 2003.

Mr Hutchings, an analyst at Evolution Beeson Gregory, was fined £18,000. However, the FSA also fined Mr Smith simply for passing on the information. Mr Smith made no personal financial gain and maintains that he was unaware of his friend's actions.

Andrew Procter, the FSA's head of enforcement, said: "We have previously taken action against those who misuse relevant information for personal gain; however, this action demonstrates that we view equally seriously the activities of those who pass on that information. This action should concentrate the minds of all those who handle relevant information on their responsibilities."

Former colleagues of Mr Smith rushed to his defence yesterday. James Brown, the former owner and chief executive of IFG, said: "In my experience, Jason was an entirely honest person. I trusted him with £4m or £5m, and there was never any impropriety. I think they're being a bit harsh."

Rodger Sargeant, the founding company secretary of IFG, said: "He was just doing his job. If this guy then went and broke every rule in the book, that's not Jason's fault." The fine is a second blow for Evolution in as many months. Last month, the group was fined £500,000 while its head of market making, Chris Potts, was fined an additional £75,000 for market abuse relating to the short selling of shares in Room Service.

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