Small Talk: Red24 takes on risk

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The Independent Online

The Iraqi tourist board, yes, that's right, the Iraqi tourist board, were in London last week extolling the virtues of the country as a destination to spend your two weeks over the summer.

While we hear that parts of Iraq are very beautiful, and indeed, some parts are also relatively safe, the chaps at the Foreign Office still advise that even the most adventurous travellers get advice and protection from private security firms.

The world of security and international risk assessment is not always that exotic, however. Red24, the Alternative Investment Market Aim-listed security group, announced on Friday that it had penned a deal with two US insurance underwriters to provide special risk consulting services.

The group says that it anticipates that deals will add a minimum of $700,000 (£419,000) of additional revenue over the next calendar year.

"In our half-yearly statement we announced that the company had taken on additional staff to offer a fuller range of special risk advice and I am delighted that this has led to such immediate success," said Red24's chairman Simon Richards.

"These contracts are further evidence of the solid progress being made by the business and underpin our confidence in the future."

Mariana and Hochschild seek gold rush

More good news from the battered Aim mining sector last week when Mariana Resources signed a joint venture deal with FTSE 250-listed, Peru-based Hochschild to hunt for gold and silver in the Argentinian desert.

In true boys-own style, the two groups will explore three adjoining prospective gold-silver tenements totalling 13,455 hectares, located in the Santa Cruz area in the western sector of the Deseado Massif in southern Argentina.

Under the terms of the agreement, Mariana will put its Los Amigos I and II properties into the joint venture, while Hochschild will contribute its San Augustin property. A $2m budget on exploration has been agreed within a three-year period, 40 per cent paid by Mariana and 60 per cent by Hochschild.

"With Hochschild as a major shareholder in Mariana, we are delighted to have further strengthened our relationship and look forward to working with such an experienced producer on this exciting project. We believe that the project offers considerable opportunities, providing both companies access to a large consolidated target area where gold and silver mineralisation may extend across common property boundaries," Mariana's managing director John Sutcliffe said.

"Additionally, following our success at the Dos Calandrias project, having recently made a significant gold-silver discovery, we believe this deal further underpins our position as a significant explorer in the emerging Santa Cruz gold district and our ability to generate projects with high potential."

The group's shares, which are still only worth 14.5p, are up by 300 per cent in the last 12 months.

Passport gets its way, so far

Regular readers of this column will remember that tensions were being dramatically ratcheted up at JSM Indochina, an Aim-listed property fund focused on Asia. Passport Capital, which holds 13 per cent of the stock, has been successful in forcing an extraordinary general meeting to fight it out with the group's management over what it says are a number of inadequacies.

The EGM will take place on 26 November and last week Passport issued a letter saying it objects to a number of things, including the amount it pays board members, especially chief executive Craig Jones, the lack of investments since listing on Aim in 2007 and a general dearth of transparency.

Passport will presumably not get the support of Mr Jones who owns 14 per cent of the stock. JSM's boss says the Asian property market has flagged, and Passport's interests and those of other investors are best served by a conservative approach. And anyway, he adds, only $40m of the IPO money has yet to find its way into investments.

Passport refutes Mr Jones's counter claim that it wants to take over the group, but admits it wants to remove three directors and nominate its own. If handing out whatever cash is left on the balance sheet to shareholders is the best way forward, so be it, Passport says.

HandMade seeks to fund expansion

Handmade, the Aim-listed film rights and production company, will hold an extraordinary general meeting today, at which shareholders will be asked to approve a recent £17m equity and convertible loan note fundraising. Since the company's directors are also its majority shareholders, it doesn't take a Nasa scientist to work out which way the vote is likely to go.

The money will go towards helping the group launch its HandMade Kids division, which incorporates children's content deals with Sarah Ferguson, National Geographic and Animation Collective. HandMade Kids will have 11 productions on US networks, making it one of the biggest independent producers of children's content. Much more interesting however, is the group's launch of its biggest film to date, Planet 51, which opens in the US on Friday. The $70m (£42m) animation picture is being distributed in the US to over 3,500 cinemas by Sony, which has set aside $60m for publicity and advertising. The film is also being released in the UK in early December.

HandMade is co-owner and co-producer of Planet 51 and is also the worldwide distribution agent for the film. Sadly, for a children's film, Burger King has been signed up as a merchandising partner for the film, but for investors the deal is good news. HandMade was started in 1972 by George Harrison, and went on to produce a number of hits such as Life of Brian and Withnail and I. It was also responsible, along with Madonna's ex-husband Guy Ritchie, for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.