Edmonds and Groves: the former England cricketer, his business partner and their stock market empire built with bribery and scams
Philippe-Henri Edmonds was one of England’s most brilliant and controversial cricketers. Andrew Groves was the hard-talking son of a Zimbabwean policeman. Together they developed a near-infallible system for gaming the stock market.
A Global Witness investigation reveals how, with the help of secrecy laws in tax havens like the British Virgin Islands and the services of a top London lawyer, Edmonds and Groves crafted intricate insider deals to skim off millions of dollars of investors’ funds. They floated a string of companies on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM)—the barely regulated little brother of the London Stock Exchange—and set out to fill them with African assets, bribing officials as their agents intimidated rivals.
Hailed in the industry press as “resource rock stars with the Midas touch”, Edmonds and Groves had investors clamouring for a cut. US hedge fund Harbinger Capital Partners pumped $100 million into their ventures, apparently ignoring suspicious deals. But others saw a darker side of the Edmonds-Groves business model. Their security men spied and hacked—leaving some in fear of their lives.
Global Witness drew on leaked emails and internal company files to map out Edmonds and Groves’ dealings, authenticating material with other sources and analysing meta-data on the messages. The document cache includes a spreadsheet listing bribes to top Liberian officials, messages orchestrating stock market scams through offshore companies, and a forensic report detailing their security agent’s hacking operations.
“Mr Edmonds and Mr Groves deny any allegations of wrongdoing,” they said in a joint response to questions, telling Global Witness that they are “committed to ensuring that all their business is conducted in a responsible and ethical manner”. They “are very proud of what they have achieved in business in Africa” and “feel very privileged to have been involved in so many ventures which were designed to develop business and industry across the continent”, according to the letter.
No one at Harbinger was aware of any improper payments or transactions, a spokesman for the fund said.
Edmonds and Groves are no strangers to controversy. In 2005, they set off a stock market bubble after their company White Nile negotiated an oil deal with rebels in war-torn Sudan. “White Nile fever” raged on London’s AIM exchange, ending with a crash when it turned out the block they claimed already belonged to oil major Total. Three years later, their AIM-listed mining firm Camec lent $100 million to Robert Mugabe’s regime on the eve of his victory in a crooked and violent election.
But markets have short memories and by 2009 Edmonds and Groves were back, selling Camec for just short of a billion dollars. African Potash, one of the businesses they floated on AIM and where Groves still holds shares, boasts two former UK government ministers, Peter Hain and Mark Simmonds, among its directors.
Groves is currently an executive at three of the companies he and Edmonds have listed together on AIM: Sable Mining Africa, Atlas Development and Support, and Agriterra. Edmonds has gradually cut his ties with the duo’s stock market ventures. He resigned from Agriterra on 22 April—the same day he wrote to Global Witness in response to allegations raised in this report. There was no connection, he said.
AIM’s 1,000-plus companies have a combined value of £71 billion, much of which comes from ordinary UK investors and pension funds. The exchange’s reputation for lax oversight has seen itlabelled as a “casino” by a senior US regulator and the exchange has been dogged by a series of scandals. Anonymously owned offshore companies are at the heart of the problem.
Global Witness’s findings show just how easily corporate secrecy can be exploited to undermine the system. Hiding behind anonymous firms registered in tax havens, Edmonds and Groves carried off a multi-million-dollar heist on their own shareholders, funnelling profits into offshore trusts supposedly for the benefit of family members—a ruse they say kept the deals legal.
When the law got in their way in Liberia, they paid bribes to change it. In neighbouring Guinea, AIM-listed Sable Mining’s flagship project has put a World Heritage Site under threat.
Phil Edmonds was “the most difficult player I have had to captain”, according to Mike Brearley, who led the England cricket team for much of the spin bowler’s career—but he was also one of the most brilliant. A combination of brains, talent and unbridled aggression made him feared by batsmen the world over in the late 70s and 80s, and many saw him as Brearley’s natural successor.
It was a role Edmonds, a natural leader, craved. Were it not for his inability to get on with Brearley—and almost everyone else—he might have achieved it.
“Get off my fucking back, Brearley, or I’ll fucking fix you,” he told his captain in a spat about tactics, wrote Simon Barnes, whose 1986 authorised biography ‘A Singular Man’ is a study of Edmonds’ curious blend of naivety and cynicism.
Naivety, Barnes says, in not foreseeing the consequences of the outburst, which irreparably damaged his career. The cynicism was from Edmonds’ upbringing in Northern Rhodesia, modern-day Zambia, where his father actively supported leading black politicians in the years leading to independence. “It is because of my father’s idealism that I became a cynic,” he told Barnes.
“The family became known as ‘the kaffirboeties’—the black-lovers,” said Edmonds, now 65. “When we went to school, inevitably, there were plenty of fights.” The white authorities forced his father’s soft-drinks business into liquidation.
When Kenneth Kaunda, an old family friend, became president on independence in 1964, Douglas Edmonds hoped his fortunes would turn. Instead he found the country’s first black leader giving all the best contracts to former enemies.
“My old man went to Kaunda once and asked him what was going on,” Edmonds recalled. “And the response was: ‘Well, we take you for granted. You’re one of us. But these others—we need to keep them happy.’”
Edmonds took the lesson with him: first to Cambridge University, then to cricket and, soon after, to the City.
“Expediency is what rules,” he told Barnes. “Not nice liberal ideas.” It was a philosophy that would match him perfectly with Andrew Groves.
Much less is known of Groves than of his more famous business partner. But in a year-long investigation in which Global Witness spoke to people who have dealt with him all over Africa, two things stood out: he can be very charismatic and equally frightening.
Born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1968, where his father served with the police either side of independence, Groves later settled in a seaside mansion in southern England, developing a taste for expensive cars and, as his partnership with Edmonds flourished, private jets. One photo shows him grinning, arms folded, reclining on a new aircraft’s white leather seats.
“Andrew’s very charming,” says Vivek Solanki, a doctor who became entangled with Groves through a deal to build African hospitals. “The guy can sell ice to Eskimos.” But the charm could rapidly evaporate.
Several people who spoke about him requested anonymity because they feared violence. Enemies received visits from the police and an old school friend, Wayne Stoltz, whose “security” work for Groves encompassed hacking and intimidation. One former business partner was contacted by an ex-convict claiming he had been hired by Stoltz to “destroy” him.
“If you play straight with Andrew Groves then he plays straight with you,” Stoltz told Global Witness. “When people steal from him he gets upset.”
Groves’ hard-nosed tactics and Edmonds’ polished sales pitch were a lucrative combination. Global Witness’s report reveals the dirty tricks behind one of the stock market’s most feted double acts.