Who is Joe Lewis? The secretive billionaire Tottenham owner charged with insider trading

Friends with Tiger Woods, owner of a 98m super yacht and boasting one of the most expensive art collections in the world – now Joe Lewis is facing allegations of ‘corruption’ in New York

Lawrence Ostlere
Wednesday 26 July 2023 12:45 BST
<p>Tottenham owner Joe Lewis, left, pictured with club chairman Daniel Levy</p>

Tottenham owner Joe Lewis, left, pictured with club chairman Daniel Levy

Joe Lewis, the billionaire owner of Tottenham Hotspur, has been indicted in the US on charges of insider trading.

Lewis has been accused of “abusing his access to corporate boardrooms” to provide information to lovers, friends and even his private pilots.

Lewis has denied the charges. In a statement, his lawyers said they would “vigorously fight” to clear his name.

Who is Joe Lewis and how did he make his money?

Lewis made his fortune primarily in foreign exchange and investment. He is ranked 39th among the UK’s wealthiest people, according to the Sunday Times Rich List, with a net worth of £5bn.

Born in the East End of London in 1937, Lewis left school at 15 to work for his father’s catering company. He took over and rapidly expanded the business into a series of themed restaurants aimed at tourists, before selling in 1979, giving him more money to invest in his new venture, currency trading. Lewis gave Robert Earl, who later founded Hard Rock and Planet Hollywood, his first job.

He was ferociously successful at working the currency markets during the 1980s and 1990s, notably betting that Britain would be forced to exit the European Monetary System, which it did in September 1992 amid the ‘Black Wednesday’ financial crisis.

He earned the nickname ‘The Boxer,’ a reference both to his power in the investment ring and his legendary almost namesake, Joe Louis. But he endured bruising defeats too, and lost $1bn – then a third of his fortune – in a single day when the American bank Bear Stearns collapsed at the start of the 2008 financial crisis. His $1.2bn stake was reduced to $22m in a matter of hours.

Lewis owns the Tavistock Group, first set up in 1975 and now one of the most renowned and powerful private equity organisations in the world. He founded the business in the Bahamas to escape UK tax laws. Along with his Bahamian mansion, Lewis owns a ranch in Argentina (which has caused conflict with local residents), multiple homes in Florida and more property across the world.

The 86-year-old is married to his long-term secretary Jane, and has two children by his first wife, Esther Browne. His son Charles lives in Argentina and is largely disconnected from the family business, but his daughter Vivienne is heavily involved.

She serves on Tavistock’s board of directors and is president of the prestigious Isleworth Golf and Country Club in Florida, which Lewis owns. He has a waterfront mansion on the 600-acre Isleworth property, which is surrounded by heavy security. Lewis almost never makes public statements or conducts media interviews.

Lewis loves golf and counts Tiger Woods not only as a close friend and neighbour but also a business partner. Together they embarked on a 600-acre luxury resort called Albany on New Providence Island in the Bahamas, alongside fellow golfer Ernie Els and the singer Justin Timberlake. Albany features a mega-yacht marina, lavish villas and a championship golf course which hosts Tiger Woods’ invitational tournament, the Hero World Challenge.

Tiger Woods in action at the Hero World Challenge in Albany

What has Lewis spent his fortune on?

Lewis has a diverse portfolio of investments all over the world, including luxury resorts in the Americas, property in Bulgaria and even an Australian agriculture company. The development arm of Tavistock is building a 17 square-mile community at Lake Nona near Orlando, Florida, where Disney is to move its headquarters.

He owns a superyacht called Aviva, which is 98m long and took three years to build. Its most striking feature is an indoor paddle tennis court, Lewis’s daily activity, at the heart of the boat. His wardrobe is particularly decadent, described by designer Andrew Langton as “bigger than my house in France.”

Lewis owns one of the most expensive private art collections in the world, including original works by Picasso and Matisse, many of which are aboard Aviva.

Through Tavistock, via the ENIC Group, Lewis also owns Tottenham Hotspur. He bought 29.9% of Tottenham in 1991, and increased his stake to a majority holding in February 2001, buying out most of Lord Sugar’s shares.

Despite appearing to have little interest in football, rarely showing up at Tottenham’s training ground or matches, Lewis has invested in a number of clubs including Rangers – supposedly encouraged by his former neighbour in the Bahamas, Sean Connery – and Slavia Prague.

After 21 years in charge of Tottenham, Lewis is the Premier League’s longest-serving owner. The club have since moved into a world-leading stadium and reached the Champions League final in 2019, but they have won only one trophy during Lewis’s tenure and his man in charge – Spurs chairman Daniel Levy – is under increasing pressure to deliver results on the pitch.

In October 2022, Lewis gave majority control of ENIC, and thus majority control of Tottenham, to a family discretionary trust of which the listed benficiaries are members of his family. The trust is managed by two independent trustees. The benficiaries of a discretionary trust have no legal entitlement to the assets.

Lewis, left, has been indicted on allegations of insider trading (Nick Potts/PA)

What has he been charged with?

Lewis has been indicted in New York for “orchestrating a brazen insider trading scheme”.

Damian Williams, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a video released by his office: “We allege that for years Joe Lewis abused his access to corporate boardrooms and repeatedly provided inside information to his romantic partners, his personal assistants, his private pilots and his friends.

“Those folks then traded on that inside information and made millions of dollars in the stock market, because thanks to Lewis those bets were a sure thing.”

Williams described Lewis’s behaviour as “classic corporate corruption.”

He said: “Now, none of this was necessary. Joe Lewis is a wealthy man. But as we allege, he used inside information as a way to compensate his employees or to shower gifts on his friends and lovers... It’s cheating, and it’s against the law. Laws that apply to everyone, no matter who you are. That’s why Joe Lewis has been indicted and will face justice here in the Southern District of New York.”

A Tottenham club spokesperson said: “This is a legal matter unconnected with the club and as such we have no comment.”

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