By Max Clarke

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has fined former stockbrokers William James Coppin £70,000 and Perry John Bliss £30,000 for using inside information about an AIM-traded company, Provexis plc, to encourage their clients to buy its shares.

Coppin and Bliss, who both worked at Pacific Continental Securities UK Ltd (PCS), have also been banned from working in financial services.

On 27 March 2007, Coppin and Bliss received an email from a colleague with the subject “Provexis”. The text read: "Gentlemen, This script does not exist" and a sales script for Provexis plc shares was attached. The text of the script contained inside information stating that Provexis plc had signed an agreement with an unnamed major food company, the announcement of the deal was imminent and that it was predicted the share price could rise as high as five or six pence, a 100% increase.

Over the next two days, Coppin and Bliss made a series of calls to clients in which they disclosed that Provexis plc was going to announce a major contract shortly which would make its share price increase substantially. Using this inside information, they encouraged some of their clients to buy Provexis plc shares.

On 30 March 2007, Provexis plc announced the new contract and its share price increased by 19.81% from the closing price on the previous day.

By using the inside information about the announcement and its likely impact on Provexis’ share price as part of their sales tactics, Coppin and Bliss committed market abuse. The FSA found that the actions of Coppin and Bliss were deliberate and had been motivated by their desire to get a bonus.

Margaret Cole, the FSA’s managing director of enforcement and financial crime, said:

“By using inside information to encourage their clients to buy shares, Coppin and Bliss abused their privileged positions and gave their clients an unfair advantage over other investors. It is important that there is a level playing field for all investors and we will not hesitate to take action to ensure that the UK markets operate in a fair, efficient and orderly way for all.”

Bliss’ behaviour merited a penalty of £60,000, but because this level of fine would have caused Bliss serious financial hardship, this has been reduced to £30,000.