Ronson makes pounds 100m property comeback

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The Independent Online
Gerald Ronson, who spent six months in jail as a result of his involvement in the Guinness scandal, set the seal on his corporate rehabilitation yesterday with the announcement of a pounds 100m property programme by his Heron International group.

The company is to sink the money into four city centre projects in London, Madrid and Barcelona over the next two years or so. Finance for the developments will be provided by Deutsche Pfandbrief und Hypothekenbank, United Bank of Kuwait and Banco Santander. Scottish Amicable, the fund manager, is also involved.

The news represents a remarkable comeback for Mr Ronson, whose conviction for theft, conspiracy and false accounting was upheld by the Court of Appeal in London a year ago.

He, along with Ernest Saunders, the former Guinness chairman, Jack Lyons, a financier, and stockbroker Anthony Parnes, were all found guilty of involvement in an illegal share support scheme which paid out guarantees and "success fees" in return for help in boosting Guinness's share price in the pounds 2.7bn take-over battle for Distillers.

Mr Ronson's fall from grace was compounded in 1992 by the collapse under debts of pounds 1.4bn of Heron International, which he had built into Britain's second-largest private company on the back of astute property deals and businesses ranging from Suzuki car and motorcycle distribution to one of the UK's largest chains of independently-owned petrol stations.

The group was bailed out in a controversial pounds 142m takeover by a US investor group led by Steven Green, the man behind Samsonite suitcases. HNV Acquisition, the acquisition vehicle backed by Rupert Murdoch and family trusts of Michael Milken, the Wall Street financier who more or less invented junk bonds, was criticised for its decision to keep on Mr Ronson as chief executive with a pay deal worth pounds 5m over five years.

Following the failure, Heron sold off most of its trading subsidiaries to concentrate on property, but this is the first big deal to emerge. Mr Ronson said yesterday the new property ventures marked a step forward in Heron's objective of building one of Europe's leading property groups.

Three of the schemes are mixed office and retail in the Strand and Tottenham Court Road in London and Paseo de Gracia in Barcelona.

The fourth scheme, in Calle Raimundo Fernandex Villaverde in Madrid, is residential. The Strand development was acquired from Scottish Amicable, which is retaining a stake.