Pru granted inquiry delay

The appeal by Prudential, Britain's biggest insurer, against stock exchange censure over the Mick Newmarch share-dealing affair was adjourned yesterday at the request of the company.

It is understood that the company asked the Quotations Committee, which is hearing the appeal, for more time to prepare its case. The Pru lost an earlier appeal after the exchange's listings department found Mr Newmarch, the company's former chief executive, and Sir Brian Corby, its chairman, guilty of breaching the model code on directors' dealings.

The committee, composed of senior executives from quoted companies and market practitioners, is the last court of appeal at the exchange. It is to consider whether Mr Newmarch breached the code by dealing in Pru shares on the morning of 25 October, just hours before a report on pensions misselling was published by the Securities and Investments Board.

Mr Newmarch made a profit of £200,000 plus, by exercising and selling 208,000 share options. The company said Mr Newmarch had to exercise by that day to allow him to receive options due the following day. But critics maintain he should have exercised the options, but held the shares for a few days until the effects on the Pru's share price from the SIB report were clear. Mr Newmarch resigned at the end of January, citing frustration at the regulatory regime in financial services. But in a statement announcing his departure, the company also revealed the existence of the inquiry into his share dealing.

Sir Brian faces censure for authorising the transaction. The affair hinges on whether the SIB report was price-sensitive information. It was very critical of the insurance industry for advising customers to opt out of company pension schemes. It is likely to lead to large compensation bills that will have to be met by insurance companies such as the Pru.

The company maintains that Mr Newmarch and Sir Brian did nothing wrong as the report's contents were widely known. Although the Pru's share price did fall slightly on the day the report was published, it did rise steadily in the following weeks.

In a further twist, Treasury officials gave evidence to the Stock Exchange that Mr Newmarch told Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, that the report would hit the Pru's share price at a meeting a week before publication. Mr Newmarch denies he made such a remark.

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