Predators stalk the corpse of London’s failing private fire firm

Not their vehicle but the symbolic state of AssetCo. Pic courtesy: TheScottishSun

Like encircling vultures, bidders across the globe are now looking  at the dying corpse of AssetCo, the floundering private fire company, for a cheap buy  as it shares hover around-3-5p mark.

Virtually all the bidders are potential asset strippers looking to buy cheap and then re-sell the company for a potential fast buck. Here is the full list, as far as I can glean. They have some interesting baggage as well.

Still with a bid on the table – but nowhere near the earlier offer of 14-21p a share- is Arcapita Bank  a Bahrain based company run by a wealthy Saudi.

The bank has run up big losses because of the credit crisis and lack of easy credit from financial institutions for private equity speculations. Its latest accounts (2010) post losses of $559 million. It is currently refinancing a $ 1.1 loan by raising cash from shareholders.

It makes its money in US, UK, Singapore and Far East and the Gulf by investing in firms for about seven yrs, restructuring them, and reselling them at a profit. (can be anything from clothing, aircraft manufacturers, retirement homes, dentistry and electricity).

Its most controversial investment is in Cypress Communications, a US high tech company, providing firewalls for US companies. Its bid became embroiled in a row when Arcapita’s chairman, Mohammed Abdukaziz Al Jomaih (27th wealthiest  person in Arab rich list) was accused of secretly financing Osama Bin Laden. His name is on seized list obtained in an anti-terror raid in Bosnia. He claims that he is not the person on the named list but that it is someone with the same name who is conveniently now dead.

Despite this Arcapita found itself forced to sign a National Security Agreement banning all but US nationals holding top posts in its acquired company and only US citizens able to handle sensitive network and security info. Don’t believe me. Read it at .

Abdulaziz Hamad Al Joiah is vice chairman. Another Saudi Arabian. MD of Aljomaih Holding Co and director of Bank Al Bilad, Riyadh. He is chairman of Principle Insurance Holding – a Muslim car insurance company targeting 2 million Muslim drivers in UK –run on Takaful principles – a sort of Muslim mutual co-operative.

Another bidder tipped by Bloomberg is Florida based Seacor Holdings. The Fort Lauderdale company with international interests in supplying  the offshore oil industry  suffered a bad knock  in the wake of Obama’s ban on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil disaster. It is trading at a loss and has had to warn shareholders of potential future losses. Not a good bet.

According to City AM there are two other interested parties. Investindustrial, an Italian based company, that invests in a wide range of companies ( from chemical companies to Ducati motor bikes) from Italy, China, Thailand and USA  and again is interested in making short-term gains.

The only British firm is Consilia Partners from  Manchester. It describes itself as a turn around company  and AssetCo would join an Ipswich catering equipment distributor and an Egyptian marble company in Cairo as its other investments, according to the Manchester Evening News.

 None of this seems to me to bode well- particularly as AssetCo is facing a new creditor, the Northern Bank, with a demand for £1.3m. What seems more likely is  a serious tip-off from City Hall – that the London Fire authority may prefer AssetCo to go bust, go into the hands of an administrator, and be picked up by Capita or Serco , both mega British companies that target public services ripe for privatisation.

Otherwise the idea that the London fire brigade’s extensive fleet of engines will fall into the hands of an Arab company whose boss was once suspected of funding al-Qaeda; an US company in trouble over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill; an Italian firm with a reputation for quick fix investments or a Manchester ” turn around” firm is hardly the best news for Londoners.