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Martha Lane Fox denies bailing out Lastminute investor mates

But there's probably a few who need the cash

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Martha Lane Fox, Lastminute.com's co-founder, has come in for a bit of a drubbing in the Independent which reckons she is offering to buy back shares in the business at its issue price.

This would be quite a good deal as the launch price of was £3.80 but they're now down to 75.5p. The Indy claims there is a catch though, the buy back is only available to "a handful of participants in lastminute's restricted 'friends and family' float.

The Lastminute camp is having none of this though. "This is completely untrue," said a spokesman.

The Indy reckons Lastminute wound up retail investors at the time of the float by allowing f&fs to buy thousands of pounds worth of shares when everyone else was limited to 35 shares. With hindsight, Joe Punter was well served by Lastminute management. However some of Martha's pals seem to have been royally stung.

The Indy claims that earlier this month Martha emailed some of the f&fs offering to buy back their shares at the offer price. The paper didn't know how many people she had mailed, but not all the privileged investors are likely to be strapped for cash - Hans Snook, chief exec of Orange was one of them apparently. The Indy thinks at least one person has taken her up on the offer.

The Lastminute camp says it's not true, and thinks the story is merely based on Martha offering to lend a friend £1,000. This friend had invested in Lastminute.com under the f&f offer.

The Indy closes its story by reckoning Martha runs the risk of violating the Financial Services Authority's guidelines.

Martha Lane Fox owns 5.99 per cent of Lastminute, which is worth about £7.67 million. She's not sold any of her stake so she probably can't afford to bail out many of her mates who tried to make a quick buck backing her business. ®

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