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Shaftesbury hit with fresh attack from Hong Kong billionaire shareholder

Joanna Bourke

West End landlord Shaftesbury’s largest shareholder, Hong Kong billionaire Samuel Tak Lee, reignited his feud with the property firm on Tuesday in an audacious bid to curb the board’s power.

In a letter published by the Chinatown and Carnaby Street property owner, 26% shareholder Lee slammed directors for being “reluctant” to engage with him, and expressed concerns about delays at a new development.

The tycoon, who owns the sprawling neighbouring Langham Estate north of Oxford Street, claimed his stake had been diluted by a recent Shaftesbury share placing and called for investors to vote against resolutions at next week’s annual meeting. He plans to oppose votes allowing the board to issue shares or carry out a share placing without consultation.

Brian Bickell, chief executive of Shaftesbury, hit back at Lee, saying he has not met the board despite numerous invitations. He told the Standard: “A constructive dialogue [face to face] would be much more productive for both parties rather than endless legal letters.”

The letter comes a year after Lee waged another war, saying he would vote against rules surrounding the ability by Shaftesbury directors to allocate shares.

The dispute partly stems from Shaftesbury embarking on a £265 million fundraising to boost its portfolio in December 2017. The placing was priced at 952p, a 5% discount on the previous day’s closing price.

Lee said: “As a result of the placing, Shaftesbury’s pre-existing shareholders collectively suffered a significant and immediate loss in value of their shareholdings by virtue of the direct equity raising costs, the dilutive effect of the issue and Shaftesbury’s resulting less efficient capital structure.” He added: “I believe the placing was motivated by a desire to dilute my interest.”

Any future fundraising could ultimately dilute Lee’s ownership. He has previously been linked to a takeover of the firm.

Part of the fundraising in 2017 was used to buy 90-104 Berwick Street, a site being developed by property tycoon Peter Beckwith’s PMB Holdings. The development will include shops and a hotel.

Lee claimed Shaftesbury has not kept shareholders fully informed about the project, and added that he has authorised an investigation into the scheme.

Shaftesbury said: “The highest standards of corporate governance and behaviour are embedded in the company’s culture and the day-to-day running of its business.”

Shares in Shaftesbury rose 1.5p to 865.5p.