PracticeAccounting FirmsThe corridors of power …

The corridors of power ...

Leona Helmsley, the New York heiress, once sneeringly declared that 'only the little people pay taxes'. Other wealthy individuals appear to take the same cavalier attitude to insider trading.

Just as Helmsley was duly clobbered for tax evasion, so George Soros, the ‘man who broke the pound’, has discovered that having a famous name does not put one above the law.

Just before Christmas, a French court imposed a £1.4m fine on the investor, finding that he had used inside information to buy and sell shares in Societe Generale. The case dated to the late eighties. The court heard Soros had been tipped off by allies of the then president, Francois Mitterrand.

Soros is in good company. In the mid-1990s, Lord Archer became embroiled in an embarrassing spat involving some share purchases in Anglian TV, where his wife, Mary, was a non-executive director.

Lord Archer bought the shares in the name of a Kurdish associate, Broosk Saib, just days before MAI, the media group, launched a £300m bid for Anglian. The affair was never satisfactorily cleared up.

In the US, Martha Stewart, the lifestyle guru and media personality, spent much of 2002 fending off allegations about her share dealing in ImClone, a drug company once run by her friend, Sam Waksal. Stewart sold 4,000 shares in ImClone shortly before news of a product setback sent the share price tumbling. She made $250,000 from the sale. Stewart says she had a stop-loss agreement with her stockbroker.

The London Stock Exchange picks up on dozens of suspicious trades a year, but rules on insider dealing means UK convictions are few and far between.

It looks as though cases such as Soros’s will remain the exception.

  • Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times.

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