Saviour sought for Forfaiting

Investors approach former Guinness Mahon chairman to take helm at ailing trade financier

DAVID POTTER, the former chairman of Guinness Mahon, the merchant bank taken over by Investec of South Africa, has been approached to take the helm at the troubled trade financier London Forfaiting.

The approach, understood to come from leading investors, would see Mr Potter replace Stathis Papoutes, the chief executive of the company. Mr Papoutes, a Greek Cypriot, was one of the two founders of the group along with Jack Wilson when they led a team of traders who had previously been at Hungarian International Bank in 1984.

The two masterminded London Forfaiting's flotation on the stock market in the late 1980s. However, the company has had a topsy-turvy ride which has seen its shares reach 481.5p before falling to a low of 29.5p earlier this month. The shares closed on Friday at 33.5p, valuing the group at only pounds 35m.

Mr Potter is believed still to be considering the offer, while other leading figures in trade finance have also considered moves to take control of London Forfaiting.

The plan to bring in Mr Potter followed the collapse of a secret deal with the Bank of Piraeus, in which the recently privatised Greek bank would have pumped around pounds 10m into London Forfaiting in an attempt to refinance the ailing company.

London Forfaiting has written off nearly pounds 130m on assets it was unable to sell.

Its first write-off at the beginning of this year, for pounds 79.7m, was heavily criticised for not being prudent enough. The company subsequently asked its auditors, Deloitte & Touche, to conduct a review. This led to a further provision of pounds 29m.

Sources in trade finance expect the company to an- nounce further write- offs when it releases full-year figures in the new year.

The write-offs mean that London Forfaiting is short of capital to allow it to trade. This has led to problems with overheads, and although Mr Wilson and Mr Papoutes agreed to salary cuts and promised to make job reductions, the company is believed to be trading at a loss.

The deal with Bank of Piraeus is understood to have foundered on the price that the Greek bank was prepared to pay for shares in London Forfaiting.

The trade finance group has often bemused the City, which has not got to grips with the financial instruments, forfaits, that form the basis of its business. But in recent years the company has become involved in less exotic types of trading, including bond deals and syndicated loans, mostly for countries in the former Soviet Bloc.

Many of London Forfaiting's problems stem from these businesses, which have been hit by many newly privatised trading companies in Russia defaulting on their loans.

No one from London Forfaiting returned telephone calls from The Independent on Sunday last week.

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