Sykes banks pounds 47m from Internet sale

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PAUL SYKES, the Euro-sceptic tycoon, added more than pounds 45m to his multi-million pound fortune yesterday with the sale of his Internet company, Planet Online.

The telecoms group Energis agreed to buy the Leeds-based Internet provider, which is headed by the Conservative Party chairman Lord Parkinson, for pounds 75m. Mr Sykes, who is planning a fierce campaign against Britain's entry into the single currency, is likely to net about pounds 47m from the sale of his 62 per cent stake in Planet Online.

The tycoon, who is to remain as an adviser to the company for the next two years, could also get a further payment of up to pounds 6m if Planet meets some performance targets by 2000.

Yesterday's agreement will bolster Mr Sykes's fortune - already estimated at about pounds 250m - and will form part of the tycoon's war chest in his battle against monetary union. He plans to launch a nationwide publicity blitz against Britain's entry into the single currency to coincide with the 1 January starting date for the euro across Europe.

Peter Wilkinson, the managing director and a close business associate of Mr Sykes, is likely to net more than pounds 24m.

Lord Parkinson, who is the company's president, will not gain from the disposal as he does not own any shares in Planet Online.

Mr Sykes, who is described by friends as "a larger-than-life character", made his fortune in property and computers.

He founded Planet Online in 1995 with the aim of capitalising on the then fledgling Internet market. Under his chairmanship, the company has grown into one of Britain's leading providers, with a turnover of more than pounds 24m. It specialises in the design and management of web sites for large companies, including Barclays Bank, Midland Bank, Cadbury's and the National Lottery. Mr Sykes was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Energis, a telecoms group that is controlled by the National Grid, is a leading Internet carrier, with 40 per cent of all UK Internet traffic passing through its lines.

The company said yesterday that the acquisition would enable it to combine its distribution network with Planet Online business services.

Business Outlook, page 20