Microsoft founder Bill Gates has given a vote of confidence to embattled British security firm G4S, despite a recent profit warning and ongoing controversy over the company’s Israeli prison contracts and the death of an Angolan man.
The US tech titan’s private investment vehicle, Cascade Investment, and his high-profile charitable fund, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, poured an extra £16m into G4S stock on Thursday, to increase their joint stake in the security giant to 3.2pc. The total holding is now worth around £110m.
Mr Gates’ endorsement will come as welcome relief following a year blighted by the company’s failure to supply enough security staff for the London Olympics. The fiasco eventually claimed the scalp of chief executive Nick Buckles, but only after a difficult first quarter in Europe prompted the company to issue a profits warning in May.
Last week, board members endured a stormy annual meeting, at which they faced repeated questions over three Israeli prison contracts in occupied Palestine and the death of Angolan deportee Jimmy Mubenga in 2010. Despite protests, G4S’ new chief executive Mr Almanza insisted at the fraught meeting that an independent study concluded that the company had not breached any aspect of “international humanitarian law”.
But this would not be the first time the $36.4bn Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest of its kind, has invested in a company that has faced fierce public criticism. The charitable trust holds stakes in BP and Exxon Mobil, which have both come under fire over catastrophic oil spills.
Mr Gates also has a history of investing in British companies, including Carpetright, Diageo and JJB Sports.
“The best guess would be that given the changes that have taken place at G4S over the past year, it’s probably an opportunity for G4S to set out a clear path,” said Steve Woolf, support services analyst at Numis.
“The underlying business is still very good. The share price has been quite beleaguered over the past 12 months. Now there is a chance to begin again and reinforce the core strategy.”
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was established by Mr Gates and his wife in 2000 with the goal of eradicating poverty and combating the world’s deadliest diseases.
By Denise Roland
4:29PM BST 10 Jun 2013
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