Oh what a tangled web we weave ...
Leo Khouri (left) and fellow collector Steve Dellidis — kings of the Ford "muscle car" collection. Source: http://theage.com.au
THE more digging one does into the carcass of Opes Prime, the messier it all gets.
A total of 22 predominantly small-cap companies went into trading halts as a direct result of the collapse of the broking firm.
Hundreds of families are facing a leaner winter as ANZ Bank, Merrill Lynch and Dresdner Kleinwort put their shareholdings on the block on the cheap.
Any of those companies has a tale to tell, but three are of particular interest to Full Disclosure — if only because the same names keep reappearing.
One is Melbourne-based Solagran, purveyors of a range of modern-day miracle cure-alls.
These include Ropren, which Solagran says could be effective in fixing everything from alcoholism, liver disease and high cholesterol to Parkinson's disease.
Solagran even has a treatment for stomach ulcers using pine needles — the company does its drug testing in Russia, where some suggest the regulatory regime is a little more flexible than in Australia or Germany, where it is also listed.
Solagran went into a trading halt on March 31, saying the company planned to make
"an announcement on the distribution and marketing of Solagran in Russia".
It duly did, yesterday, with a lengthy treatise. Not that many noticed — of more interest was the note issued after it, saying that Solagran would be out in another trading halt until Friday.
It seems a private company called Solamind — it effectively controls Solagran and holds shares owned by executive chairman and principal founder Vagif Soultanov — was doing its business with Opes Prime, complete with a margin loan account.
As a result, ANZ may now own so much of the company's stock that Solagran suggests ANZ Bank will have to make a formal takeover offer for the company under the Takeover Provisions of the Corporations Act — they will own morethan 19.9%.
There's a nice mess for the ASX to deal with.
Also, Dr Soultanov owns only 8% of the stock.
So who owns the rest?
Another name associated with Solagran is one that has featured in Full Disclosure this week — GT Ford-driving internet day trader Leo Khouri, the man mounting the class action against ANZ to try to keep $50 million of shares he and his business associates once owned.
Khouri, known as "the Gun" in day-trading circles, and some of his associates are very long in Solagran — about $30 million, at the last closing price, we hear — and are not happy. Lucky for them that Solagran has been in a lengthy trading halt and ANZ can't yet dump the stock.
Another company taking a close look at Opes is Range Resources, a Perth-based oil and mineral explorer that is drilling for oil in Somalia.
One Peter Landau is executive director and company secretary.
Landau has put out a corporate update to the market stating no directors had margin loan accounts with Opes, but some large investors did.
Those investors include, you guessed it, GT Ford-driving day trader Leo Khouri — who, we reliably hear, spent some time in March visiting Somalia before heading over to Perth.
Landau, formerly of Melbourne, is also a directorof listed small-cap biotech BioProspect.
For his services there, Landau was rewarded with the issue of 10 million shares in BioProspect this month.
That was for his "consulting services" after BioProspect signed with, wait for it, Solagran.
The coincidences just keep mounting up.
Meanwhile, Khouri and his cohorts have finally retained the services of some briefs who are willing to take on their case.
After paperwork at Clayton Utz was passed from Perth to the Sydney head office on Monday, senior partners decided they could live without the Opes Prime class action.
"We would like to make it clear the decision has been made that Clayton Utz will not be proceeding with the action," said a spokeswoman for the company who contacted Full Disclosure.
"We believe the client is seeking to engage the services of another solicitor." Arnold Bloch Leibler was rumoured to be the next port of call for Khouri and his group, but to no avail. By late morning the paperwork had lobbed with Bourke Street lawyers
Logie-Smith Lanyon, who agreed to take on the class action.
Khouri has confirmed that he is up the creek for $12 million personally. But the day trader, who also invests money for other people, said a group of friends and business associates had invested $50 million through Opes.
What has irked Khouri is that he didn't receive a margin call on any of his investments and, like so many other Opes clients, operated under the belief that he retained ownership of his shares.
Khouri and his private company, Gun Capital Management, will be represented by solicitor Vann Fisher, of Wisewolds.
"I am representing Mr Khouri's interests in the matter, Logie-Smith Lanyon will be doing the class action," confirmed Fisher.
"At this stage my client has nothing further to add, but we will be monitoring what happens with other cases before the courts very closely in coming weeks."
Highlights for Full Disclosure's spies have included watching Virgin boss Richard Branson prance in a loincloth for the launch of V Australia's Sydney-Los Angeles route, and the repeated spottings of Fairfax Media chairman Ron Walker and 3AW's Neil Mitchell dining around town.
The pair had lunch on Tuesday, and were seen dining together at Crown Casino's plush new Bistro Guillaume on Wednesday. That's certain to fuel the rumour mill.
But nothing can top the latest entry for "worst press release of the year", which, it is sad to report, promotes the digital arm of Fairfax.
Sydney's Red Agency has sent out real birdcages with cardboard cut-out canaries inside, which somehow is meant to promote Fairfax Digital's collaboration in the launch of an "online digital youth initiative". The included press release tells us it will "ruffle some feathers".
Except everyone at Red Agency missed the symbolism of the canary in a cage — it' a harbinger of doom.
Miners kept them to sense levels of toxic gas in coalmines. When the birds died, the miners fled. Much like Fairfax investors of late.
Source: http://business.theage.com.au/ | April 3, 2008
Opes bosses tied to risky holdings
- Jamie Freed
- April 4, 2008
AS THE ousted Opes Prime chief executive Laurie Emini prepared to appear in the Federal Court in Melbourne this morning in a case brought by the corporate regulator, links have emerged between him, fellow Opes directors and large share and option holdings in more than a dozen speculative mining and biotechnology companies.
Mr Emini and the Opes directors Alun Stevens, Anthony Blumberg and Julian Smith are registered as directors of an unlisted company, Green Frog Nominees, whose ultimate holding company is Opes.
Research by the Herald has revealed Green Frog was named in top 20 share and option-holder lists or as having taken part in capital raisings in at least 14 companies since February last year. All would be deemed highly speculative investments. Several of the companies trade for less than 10c a share, and all have share prices of less than $1.
Many of the companies involved have been subject to high-volume trading in the week since Opes collapsed. As of June 27 last year Green Frog was listed as the largest holder of Admiralty Resources shares, with its 196 million shares comprising a 22 per cent stake in the company.
ANZ Nominees was the second-largest holder at the time, with 119 million shares. Combined, they controlled 315 million shares. By August ANZ Nominees held 318 million shares and Green Frog had exited the Admiralty top 20.
Since last Friday more than 140 million Admiralty shares have changed hands.
Citadel Resource Group counted ANZ Nominees and Opes Prime among its top 20 holders as of December 4, while Green Frog held 9.1 per cent of its unlisted options and 24.64 per cent of its partly paid shares. A line of 63 million Citadel shares was traded yesterday, and its chief executive, Ines Scotland, said the stake had been pledged to Opes and covered about 20 shareholders.
Green Frog is the largest shareholder of Jameson Resources, which has lost 69 per cent of its value in the past five days.
Green Frog's other investments included Nkwe Platinum and BioProspect, which share a director in the Perth lawyer Peter Landau. He is also on the board of Range Resources. Range, which lists ANZ Nominees among its top 20 shareholders, said less than 1 per cent of its stock was affected by the Opes collapse.
The Melbourne daytrader and large Opes client Leo Khouri was reportedly a Range shareholder.
One of his business associates told The Age Mr Khouri was planning to return to Lebanon soon, despite banding together investors with $300 million of seized stock to file a lawsuit in hopes of regaining control of their holdings.
The fallout from the Opes collapse also appears to have ensnared the Sydney broker Findlay & Co. Findlay's nominee company, Captain Starlight, holds options in Nkwe, which is registered in Bermuda. Findlay and Captain Starlight - along with Green Frog - also own shares in CircleCOM.
Findlay is an adviser to Range and to Fairstar Resources. Fairstar is attempting to buy its rival Golden West Resources, but the latter said 14.75 million of its shares owned by Fairstar were held by ANZ Nominees and linked to Opes.
Search for Khouri smoking gun is on
THERE are plenty of people hurting this weekend and licking their wounds after the collapse of Opes Prime.
This week, BusinessDay has tracked the varying fortunes of company directors, GT Ford collectors, nightclub owners, partners of Truth Media and group of gentlemen who like to regard themselves as "good fellas".
At the centre of Full Disclosure's probing has been the fortunes of Leo Khouri, a day trader known as "The Gun" with a string of stakes in small-cap listed companies.
According to a source, the ASX-listed companies Range Resources, Solagran, BioProspect and Boss Energy are all known around town as "Khouri companies" due to the size of his shareholdings and the influence he seems to have on management.
Indeed, many have pondered how Khouri and these companies have not shown up on substantial shareholder notices for Range Resources, Solagran and BioProspect.
"Many people see Leo pop up on their share register after their IPO and are happy to take his money to begin with," a Melbourne-based broker told BusinessDay. "But they aren't so happy if he sticks around on their share register for a long period of time."
By his own admission, Khouri has done $12 million of his own cash amid the Opes Prime crash. He says another $38 million from business associates has been caught up in the mess.
Khouri spent the better part of the week shopping around for a solicitor willing to take on a class action against ANZ, which has seized his shares.
After Clayton Utz knocked him back, lawyers Logie-Smith Lanyon took on the class action. Khouri is apparently asking Opes Prime victims to put up $6000 each to fund the action.
While the losses will hurt Khouri, many peers say it won't wipe him out. On the trading website hotcopper.com.au, some regard "The Gun" as a trading legend.
Indeed, such is Khouri's success that he and close friend and associate Steve Dellidis own 16 rare GT Fords and GTHO Falcons that are well known around the country.
While Deloitte's forensic investigators sift through the wreckage of Opes Prime, others are looking into the relationship between Khouri and Perth solicitor Peter Landau, and a string of coincidences.
Landau, now apparently in London, is executive director and company secretary of Range Resources, a Perth-based oil and mineral explorer that is drilling for oil in Puntland, Somalia.
Khouri is share owner and a consultant to the company, and has travelled to Puntland as part of a Range Resources delegation.
The company even took a happy snap of directors presenting local "government officials" with a cheque for $US250,000. Word is, Puntland is a place where the terms "government official" and "warlord" are almost interchangeable.
Landau, formerly of Melbourne, is also a director of listed small-cap biotech and "Khouri company" BioProspect.
Landau was rewarded with the issue of 10 million shares in BioProspect last month. That was for his "consulting services" after BioProspect signed a commercial agreement with Solagran — another "Khouri company".
There should be plenty to keep investigators busy next week.
Source: The Age
Solagran feels pain from Opes
- Ari Sharp
- April 5, 2008
A MELBOURNE pharmaceuticals company that claims one of its products is a wonder drug dropped as much as 33% in trading after the extent of its stockholding affected by Opes Prime was revealed.
Solagran's shares partly recovered to close down 9.5¢, or 11.9%, at 70.5¢.
Twice during the week the company halted trade of its stock, pending announcements, but trading resumed yesterday.
In a letter to the ASX, company secretary Peter Stedwell said: "There are three related parties with securities of the company securing margin lending facilities with Opes Prime."
He said the total level of Solagran's shareholding exposed to Opes Prime was unknown, but it was at least 41.8 million ordinary shares and 4.9 million contributing shares. This constitutes about 35% of the company's issued shares.
The shares were held by Solamind, whose ownership is shared by 16 people, 11 of whom are from Russia, and includes many of Solagran's key scientists and some of its directors.
Solamind is disputing the ownership of the shares by Opes Prime creditor ANZ. The shares do not appear to have been sold.
Solagran chairman Vagif Soultanov said it was an unfortunate set of circumstances.
Dr Vagif Soultanov said in a letter to Solagran shareholders: "I can assure you, both as the chairman of Solagran and as a director of Solarmind, that in my opinion, Solamind has done nothing wrong. It was never subject to a margin call. It is simply one of the many victims of the collapse of Opes Prime."
The company claims its key drug, Ropren, is effective in treating liver disease, and may also be able to treat neurodegenerative disorders, depression, Parkinson's disease and help boost immunity and high cholesterol.
Biotech Daily editor David Langsam said the claims made by the company, whose shares have traded as high as $1.55 in the past year, left some market watchers unconvinced.
Source: The Age
and Read: Opes unravels
See also: Trader with GT stripes
and Also: $1m for a pair of old Fords