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UK billionaire Joe Lewis avoids jail, fined US$5 million by US judge for insider trading

WorldUK billionaire Joe Lewis avoids jail, fined US$5 million by US judge for insider trading

A US judge ordered British billionaire Joe Lewis on Thursday to pay a US$5 million fine and serve three years of probation for sharing illegal stock tips, allowing an investment firm’s 87-year-old founder to avoid prison after prosecutors and his lawyers urged leniency.

US District Judge Jessica Clarke in Manhattan sentenced Lewis, who pleaded guilty in January to one count of conspiracy and two counts of securities fraud.

Lewis, founder of the Tavistock Group, sat flanked by his lawyers as the sentence was imposed, wearing a grey suit and an eye patch. He told the judge he was ashamed of what he had done.

“I am here today because I made a terrible mistake,” he said.

British billionaire Joe Lewis (centre) leaves Manhattan federal court in New York in July 2023. Photo: AP

The judge agreed that Lewis could leave the US on his private aircraft on Thursday night, though his yacht, the Aviva, will be held until his fine is paid.

“Mr Lewis is grateful that the court has imposed a probationary sentence that considers his age and health issues,” Mark Herr, a spokesman for Lewis, said after the hearing.

Prosecutors said Lewis, whose family trust controls a majority of London’s Tottenham Hotspur football team, passed inside information on his portfolio companies to two of his private pilots as well as friends, personal assistants and romantic partners.

Those tips enabled the recipients of the information to reap millions of dollars in profit, according to prosecutors.

UK billionaire Tottenham owner charged in US with insider trading

Lewis in January entered a plea deal with prosecutors agreeing to a US$50 million fine of his Bahamas company, Broad Bay. Under the agreement, Lewis’ fine will be included in the total.

He also agreed to resign board seats at US companies and relinquish majority ownership of Boxer Capital, the biotech-focused fund where prosecutors say he got tips.

The London native, who lives in the Bahamas, travelled to New York to face the charges immediately after learning of his indictment, his lawyers said in court papers. Lewis has since remained in the country, posting US$300 million bail secured by his yacht and a private aircraft.

His decision not to fight extradition, coupled with his significant health issues, had led prosecutors to recommend leniency for Lewis, whose doctors have said prison could be lethal.

Lewis is worth US$6.2 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

British billionaire Joe Lewis (in grey jacket) leaves court in New York on Thursday. Photo: AP

Prosecutors have said he collected inside information about four companies in which he had invested, and tipped friends and associates between 2019 and 2021.

According to prosecutors, the companies included cancer therapy developer Mirati Therapeutics and BCTG Acquisition, a blank-check company that Boxer Capital sponsored and which took biotech company Tango Therapeutics public in a merger in 2021.

The two pilots were also accused in the case of making millions of dollars in illegal profits from Lewis’ tips.

One of them, Patrick O’Connor, pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced in May. The second pilot, Bryan Waugh, has denied wrongdoing and said the charges should be dismissed because he is only accused of trading on stock recommendations, not inside information.

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