Wilbur Ross

Jim Pickard

Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed a discrepancy in the press releases issued this morning by UKFI and by Virgin on the sale of Northern Rock.

In the UKFI announcement there was no mention of Wilbur Ross, the US billionaire, or his company. By contrast the press release from Virgin Money says explicitly: “The acquisition is funded by an investment consortium led by Virgin Group and WL Ross & Co.”

It seems ministers are keen for Sir Richard Branson to be the smiling face of the deal, rather than the man dubbed by Fortune Magazine the “King of Bankruptcy”.

So who is Ross? He is a very canny financial investor who has made a speciality out of distressed assets. Recently he was part of a consortium which saved Bank of Ireland from full state ownership by taking a combined 35 per cent stake through rights issues: that consortium was made up of Fidelity Investments, Fairfax Financial Holdings and WL Ross & Co.