Walker urges Branson disclosure

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The Independent Online

Sir Richard Branson's proposed buy-out of Northern Rock could put pressure on him to reveal more information about his Virgin business, under guidelines for the private equity industry.

Sir David Walker, a senior adviser to Morgan Stanley, told the House of Commons Treasury Committee yesterday, that Virgin's proposed takeover of Northern Rock was "private equity-like" because of its use of leverage, and that he thought his code of conduct should be applied to the group if it bought Northern Rock. Virgin Money wants to use debt to buy a majority stake in Northern Rock and keep the stricken bank's public listing.

Disclosure rules for the bank would be tougher than Sir David's guidelines. But Virgin could be under pressure to publish an annual report or give updates on its website about management structure, leadership and UK companies it owns. Despite Sir Richard's liking for publicity, Virgin's organisation and finances are opaque.

Sir David said that getting private equity-like groups to comply could be difficult but that sovereign wealth funds would probably take part to maintain public goodwill.

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