Rachel Wells and Elizabeth Knight July 02, 2012
The man behind the mysterious takeover offer for David Jones has revealed himself. Photo: Paul Rovere
THE man behind the mysterious $1.65 billion takeover offer for Australia's oldest department store, David Jones, has revealed himself as John Edgar - a Scotsman who is linked to a matrix of dubious one-pound companies, including a British-based beverage company that bizarrely claims to sell halal vodka for $5.3 million a bottle.
John Edgar has shown The Age two letters he had sent to the David Jones chairman, Bob Savage - one on May 22 and another on June 27 - increasing the proposed offer price.
The letters describe his company, EB Private Equity, as a Britain and Luxembourg-based investment fund. It says it has lined up partners that will provide capital and lenders to provide debt finance.
''We are in discussions with various partners and hope to have a conference call with the David Jones chairman next week,'' Mr Edgar told The Age by phone from Britain.
Mr Edgar said he thought David Jones was undervalued and was particularly interested in its department store real estate, which he said was EB Private Equity's speciality.
However, he declined to identify any of this company's previous deals. If the latest unsolicited offer leads to nothing, Australian investors are set to lose up to $175 million.
Mr Edgar insisted last night the negotiations were ''very preliminary''.
But concerns around EB Equity's bona fides remain. The company's business address in Newcastle, England, is little more than a post office box in a back street - wedged between a wig shop and a noodle restaurant.
Investigations by The Age have uncovered a trail of abandoned shelf companies associated with Mr Edgar, most of which are devoid of any assets. Some of these companies have facade websites but no information about the business they contain nor the company's management.
David Jones' share price surged by as much as 20 per cent on Friday following talk of the bid.
However, questions about the credibility of the approach had been raised soon after David Jones chairman Bob Savage advised the Australian Securities Exchange, before trading on Friday, that the proposal to buy 100 per cent of the company was lacking key information.
On Friday afternoon David Jones made a further announcement, stating that a British blog site had released the name of the bidder, as EB Private Equity - but not who was behind it.
The obscure blog, which appeared to have been created just weeks ago, said the group had teamed up with Lang LaSalle and Chalkhill Partners to make a £1.1 billion ($A1.7 billion) bid for David Jones, valuing it at about $3.12 a share. Both companies say they have no knowledge of EB Private Equity. Investigations by The Age have linked EB Private Equity with the Luxury Beverage Company Limited, which is owned by John (Marshall)
Edgar, with office locations registered in Manchester, Newcastle and Warwickshire.
Last year, the group, which claims to sell a variety of luxury alcoholic brands - including Catherine's Vodka and the whiskey label, Isabella Islay - announced it had launched the world's most expensive non-alcoholic drink for the Islamic market.
Called Ruwa, and reportedly selling for $5.3 million, the company claims the beverage is sold in hand-made crystal decanters, studded with diamonds, rubies and white gold.
Mr Edgar has been linked with a string of mostly British-based alcoholic and investment businesses - many of which appear to be shelf companies.
The Age has also identified Mr Edgar to be a director of the Australian-based Ellen's Brands, which is based in Darwin but has no website describing its activities.
This company's fellow director William MacDonald - an 84-year-old former accountant from Deloitte - says he has never met Mr Edgar and has no idea what the company does. However, he said documents he had received from the Australian Tax Office suggested it was in some dispute with the company.
The revelations come after David Jones told investors on Friday that the lack of ''usual public information'' about the bidding consortium meant shareholders should ''treat any related market comment cautiously''.
The Saturday Age drew attention to the legitimacy of the EB Private Equity website, which appeared to have been largely copied from a website for the London-based Moorfield group - a property investment firm.
Yesterday, a David Jones spokeswoman said the company was still seeking more information about the mystery bidder.
Digital forensics expert, Michael Roberts, from the US-based Rexxfield, said Mr Edgar appeared to be ''all feathers and no meat''. ''There doesn't seem to be much in the way of human gatekeepers between him and the outside world.''