The tax exile who plays the markets

FOR someone who shuns the public eye, Joe Lewis gets a lot of publicity. And even though he took a step out of the spotlight yesterday by selling his stake in Glasgow Rangers, the football club, the fascination with the person who has been tagged Britain's richest man is unlikely to end.

In fact, Mr Lewis, aged 60, may not be the richest. His personal wealth has been estimated at as much as pounds 3bn, though other sources insist the true figure is half that much. In fact, that no one knows. For the past two decades, Mr Lewis has controlled his complex web of investments from his tax exile in Lyford Cay, the Bahamas, making it impossible to draw an accurate picture of the assets he controls.

Mr Lewis made his first fortune in restaurants. Born in 1937, the son of a pub landlord in London's East End, he left school at 15 to help his father run the Hanover Grand catering business. He then built up a number of restaurants including the Beefeater chain, which he subsequently sold to Whitbread, the leisure and brewing group.

Although Mr Lewis will have no direct investment in Enic's agreement with Warner Brothers, his involvement undoubtedly helped clinch the deal. He has been associated with other multinational restaurant chains, helping to fund both Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock Cafe when they started up.

Most of his fortune, however, has been made playing the global money markets. Clubbing together with other large investors in highly leveraged hedge funds, he takes large positions in currencies, bonds and equities. Goldman Sachs, the US investment bank, has reportedly extended a multi- billion pound line of credit to him.

At the same time, Mr Lewis has a range of smaller investments. He owns about 10 per cent of Union, the money-broking house which he uses for some of his transactions. His love of art - he is an avid collector - extends to Christie's, the auction house in which he holds a 29.3 per cent stake. He also has shares in Coffee Republic, the coffee chain which recently floated on AIM.