UK-based billionaire Joe Lewis, who holds more than 50 percent of the shareholding in Australian pastoral giant, the Australian Agricultural Co, has been charged overnight with multiple instances of insider trading in the United States.
Eighty-six year old Mr Lewis, who heads AA Co’s major shareholder the Tavistock Group, was alleged to have taken part in a scheme by the US Attorney in Manhattan, Damian Williams.
In a video statement, Mr Williams said the Southern District of New York had indicted Joe Lewis for “orchestrating a brazen insider trading scheme.”
The 19 counts include claims of securities fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud and making false statements.
“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,” the video statement said.
“Those folks then traded on that information and made millions of dollars in the stockmarket. Thanks to Lewis those bets were a sure thing.”
Mr Williams said none of it was necessary and Mr Lewis, worth an estimated $10 billion and owner of the Tottenham Hotspurs football club, was a wealthy man, but had used the information to compensate employees or to shower gifts on his friends and lovers.
“It’s classic corporate corruption,” he said. “It’s cheating and it’s against the law.”
Mr Lewis is alleged to have shared information about publicly traded life science groups Solid Biosciences and Mirati Therapeutics, as well as beef producer the Australian Agricultural Co and a special purpose acquisition company, BCTG.
The prosecutors alleged that for a period of at least eight years, Mr Lewis used information he was given as a board member of certain companies to help those in his orbit know when to buy stock or sell it before its value dropped.
In 2019, he allegedly told his pilots about the financial losses that AA Co would incur as a result of flooding in Queensland and urged them to sell their investments in the company before the information was disclosed.
A lawyer for Mr Lewis said in a statement: “The government has made an egregious error in judgment in charging Mr Lewis, an 86-year-old man of impeccable integrity and prodigious accomplishment. Mr Lewis has come to the US voluntarily to answer these ill-conceived charges, and we will defend him vigorously in court.”
The news comes on the eve of AA Co’s annual general meeting being held in Brisbane tomorrow.
Shares in AA Co dropped 4c overnight, trading this morning at $1.48, on light volume. The shares have traded in a narrow band between $1.45 and $1.52 since early June, when this year’s financials were released.