Tiny strikes back with a vengeance

Mining deal fans flames in the battle for Lonrho's soul. Paul Farrelly reports; 'Does Lonrho really have a reputation for litigation?', Tiny asks mock naively

"LET THERE be no doubt. Mr Bock won't have the time to do property deals in Germany or anywhere else. He'll be too busy facing me in court."

Nearing 80, Tiny Rowland seems an unlikely Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he's back and with a vengeance in his latest and most bitter feud - with Dieter Bock, German property magnate and chief executive of Lonrho, Tiny's life's creation.

A full-page advertisement in Tuesday's Financial Times heralded the umpteenth, hugely expensive coming. Lonrho shareholders meet this week to sanction the pounds 400m-plus pooling of its South African platinum interests with rival Gencor, creating the world's largest platinum producer.

Mr Rowland thinks the deal too cheap. There'll be "no sex left in Lonrho", he says, after it cedes control of its valuable mining assets. But most of all Mr Rowland is bitter that Mr Bock, the erstwhile ally who turfed him out last March, is dismantling the once-sprawling conglomerate, while he stands near powerless outside the ring.

Outwardly, bitter is the last thing he seems. With a sparkling eye and bubbling-under smile, he leans back in the ornate lounge of his Chester Square townhouse in London: "Does Lonrho really have a reputation for litigation?" he asks mock-naively, referring to battles gone by.

A framed 20 shilling Kenyan banknote bears witness to 30 years of influence and African deal-making. Specially printed but never issued, the 1987 note on the side table bears Mr Rowland's beaming features and he still wields clout as the "friend of Africa".

"No Rowland, no flotation," he says, citing Ghanaian president Jerry Rawlings' response to attempts to oust him from the board of Ashanti Goldfields, Lonrho's last big mining spin-off, where he remains ensconced despite Mr Bock's opposition.

Mr Rowland's scraps remain legendary in business lore: his rallying of small shareholders to defeat a boardroom coup in 1973, while Mr Bock was a 33- year-old tax lawyer; his ruthless dismantling of Antipodean raider Alan Bond's liberal accounting techniques; the near 10-year feud with the Fayeds over Harrods, sealed two years ago with a "love-hate" peace.

"Just Tiny up to his old tricks again," a Bock spokesman says of the latest salvo. What the Bock camp is less eager to publicise, however, is its own efforts to discredit Lonrho's founder. Sure, Mr Rowland has been digging around in Germany, piecing together the rise - and plotting the future fall, he hopes - of his outwardly unassuming foe. But Bock's camp, too, have been up to tricks, which they deny for fear of being tarred with the brush reserved for Mr Rowland.

The story starts in April this year when a German snooper-cum-journalist, Frank Anderssohn, bounded uninvited into Chester Square, promising dirt on Mr Bock, only to be packed off with a flea in his ear. Mr Anderssohn, now languishing over unpaid debts in a Nuremberg jail, promptly turned to Mr Bock, swearing an affidavit over German investigator Rudolf Biebl's attempts allegedly on Mr Rowland's behalf to dish dirt on his rival. Characteristically of Mr Bock's skilful public relations operation since his arrival at Lonrho in 1992, the affidavit quickly found its way into the Sunday Times.

In the murky, scent-a-fast-buck underworld of private eyes, Mr Anderssohn, who has a string of convictions to his name, bore a grudge over money against Mr Biebl, his erstwhile employer. The Bock camp alleged that Mr Biebl's activities were Mr Rowland's own, and Mr Rowland is now suing Mr Bock for criminal libel in a Munich court.

The Sunday Times rapidly backtracked, as has Lonrho, disowning Mr Anderssohn and denying allegations that Mr Bock's aides offered the German journalist up to pounds 1m for his co-operation.

It is not the first time the Bock camp has fought fire with fire. Staff at the Financial Times still smart at the mention of a story planted in September 1994 of Mr Rowland's imminent ousting, "an attempted coup by press", which proved groundless.

A peace deal last November also proved nothing of the sort. Under that, Mr Bock agreed to cancel an option over Mr Rowland's remaining 6.3 per cent stake and the founder would become honorary president and retire from the board.

Instead, after comments to the press, Mr Rowland was fired in March and as a result, Mr Bock tore up the option deal, opening up another rich dispute likely to return to the courts.

Mr Rowland intends to have his day on Thursday and there will be one hell of a row if he is barred from the meeting or from voting his shares. Most analysts and institutions are backing the mining merger, which involves Lonrho swapping its 73 per cent stake in the younger West and East Plats mines for 32 per cent of an enlarged Implats group taking in Impala Platinum's and Gencor's older mines.

"It deserves a lot of scrutiny but the deal is right for Lonrho," says analyst Paul Beaufrere at broker James Capel.

Some of Mr Rowland's criticisms, now circulated in the latest missive to shareholders, do now seem wide of the mark. Lonrho insists the deal is worth pounds 402m net to the group, after writing off intra-group debt of pounds 46m and a pounds 36m legal claim against Impala.

Knocking them off again and suggesting the deal is really worth only pounds 330m would then be "double-counting". On the other hand, Lonrho's own circular is fuzzy on the debt point and the deal has already dropped in value from pounds 430m since the original announcement in June because of a fall in Impala's shares.

Possibly more serious is a potential claim from South Africa's Bafokeng tribe over mining concessions to Impala. Lonrho is confident that any challenge will be beaten, but has an option to sell its new Implats shares to Gencor.

That sets a ceiling rather than a floor - the lesser of 74 rand per Implats share or the average price over the previous month. To get even the pounds 380m implied at 74 rand, that raises the prospect of Lonrho scrambling to use its option before Implats shares go through the floor on a successful Bafokeng claim. Other investors might scream and shout about that.

Whatever the battle of words will be on Thursday, Lonrho already has enough proxy votes to see the deal through. "Hasta la vista", though, this war will run and run.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Client Services Manager - Relationship Management - London

£30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller / Customer Service

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...

Guru Careers: In-House / Internal Recruiter

£25 - 28k + Bonus: Guru Careers: An In-house / Internal Recruiter is needed to...

Recruitment Genius: Tax Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea