Shares inquiry targets City firm

Click to follow
The Independent Online
One of the City's most respected and powerful stockbroking firms has been drawn into the long-running official investigation into suspected insider dealing in the shares of Anglia TV, which began in February 1994 with the inquiry into trading by Jeffrey Archer, the best- selling novelist and former Tory Party deputy chairman.

Senior former directors of Smith New Court, including one who worked on the bid for Anglia by MAI, the media group headed by Labour peer Lord Hollick, have now been interviewed by the Department of Trade and Industry inspectors.

Sir Michael Richardson, Smith New Court's former head, who now works for Hambro Magan, the specialist corporate finance adviser, said: "I can't talk, because everybody at Smith New Court has had their lips sealed. An undertaking not to say anything was given - in no way can it be broken."

The Independent has learned that far from being over, as was widely supposed, the inquiry is still going strong. So far, the inspectors have spent a total of 17 months investigating the market in Anglia shares.

The investigation, which shows no sign of being immediately wound-up, has cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds in fees. The inspectors, Hugh Aldous, an accountant, and Roger Kaye QC, were initially appointed by Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, to probe the dealings of Lord Archer. That first inquiry ended in July 1994, with a decision to take no action against the Tory life peer.

However, in May last year, Mr Heseltine ordered the inspectors to take another look into Anglia share activity ahead of the company's takeover by MAI in January 1994. He had received evidence that Karen Morgan-Thomas, a former stockbroker and a friend of Lord Archer's, had made pounds 20,000 from Anglia shares.

Smith New Court has since merged with Merrill Lynch, the giant US investment bank. But in January 1994, it was advising MAI, headed by Lord Hollick, on its plan to buy Anglia.

The ex-Smith New Court director who advised Anglia has been required to furnish the inspectors with diaries belonging to him and his wife. Records of phone calls to his London home have also been examined. He refused to comment.

Lord Archer, whose wife, Mary, was a director of Anglia, bought 50,000 shares in the TV company four days before it announced an agreed bid by MAI. The takeover heralded a spectacular rise in Anglia's share price, netting an instant pounds 77,000 profit on the shares Lord Archer purchased on behalf of an associate.. Lord Archer said the second inquiry had "nothing to do with me".