One of Britain’s best known property tycoons, Nick Candy, has accused a former business partner and fallen star of the dotcom boom of fraud. The billionaire is embroiled in a bitter legal row with Robert Bonnier, a Dutch-born entrepreneur once handed a record fine for misleading the stock market.
Bonnier is alleged to have enticed Candy – who is married to Australian singer and actress Holly Valance – into a multi-million-pound investment in one of his firms, a fledgling social media company called Aaqua.
In legal documents seen by The Mail on Sunday, it is claimed Bonnier convinced Candy to invest through repeated lies about its links to Apple and French luxury goods empire LVMH.
Accompanying Candy’s High Court claim is a complaint to the FBI, in which he urges an immediate investigation into Bonnier’s alleged deceit. Candy launched an attempt to freeze Bonnier’s assets last summer.
The Dutchman claims it was the asset freeze that sparked the downfall of his business.
Fallout: Nick Candy, with wife Holly Valance, is suing Robert Bonnier
Bonnier, a former investment banker, made his name as the founder of phone directory firm Scoot in the early 2000s. At its peak, that company soared to a valuation of £2.5 billion in 2000. However, it sank to a meagre £5 million once the dotcom bubble burst.
Bonnier’s star continued to fall. In 2004, he was hit with a £290,000 penalty by the financial regulator for misleading the market. In 2008, his £11 million London home was repossessed. He founded Singapore-based Aaqua in 2020.
As for Candy, he is most famous for developing One Hyde Park, a sumptuous residential apartment block in London’s Knightsbridge with his brother Christian. His real estate riches led to his bold, though unsuccessful, attempt to buy Chelsea Football Club last year.
He is no stranger to legal battles. As well as his dispute with Bonnier, he is fighting a claim against Tamara Ralph, the designer who made Meghan Markle’s £56,000 engagement dress. Candy pumped millions into her fashion firm, Ralph and Russo, in 2018 before it collapsed amid allegations she spent company cash funding her lavish lifestyle – allegations she strenuously denies.
Candy took a stake in Aaqua after being approached by Bonnier in August 2020. Bonnier met one of Candy’s key lieutenants, Steven Smith, in the five-star Hotel Belles Rives in Antibes. It was at that meeting on the French Riviera that Bonnier first claimed Apple and LVMH wanted to invest in Aaqua, according to the court documents. Over the following months Bonnier bombarded Smith with information about Aaqua’s finances.
Correspondence seen by The Mail on Sunday shows that Bonnier placed Apple and LVMH at the heart of his growth plans, listed them as ‘founding partners’ and included them as potential shareholders in a document. He even suggested that the French firm’s founder, Bernard Arnault, the world’s richest person, could stump up cash personally.
Bonnier also said that Apple and LVMH combined could plough about £700 million into Aaqua.The agreement between Candy and Bonnier involved Bonnier buying shares in Candy-backed podcast firm Audioboom. In return, Candy bought shares in Aaqua in spring 2021.
Legal action: Robert Bonnier with wife Nashida
But a year later the relationship descended into acrimony. In court documents, Candy accused Bonnier of making ‘false’ claims and ‘fraudulent misrepresentation’. The documents say: ‘Mr Bonnier had not discussed an investment in Aaqua with either Apple or LVMH.’ Apple and LVMH have been contacted for comment.
Candy is seeking £6 million in damages from Bonnier – who has hit back with a £150 million lawsuit of his own over claims the freezing order bankrupted his firm.
Candy fired off the first legal threat to Bonnier in June 2022, demanding answers over Aaqua’s ties to Apple and LVMH. There was no response and the worldwide asset freeze was secured two months later. Bonnier’s firm was shut down last summer and hundreds of jobs were lost overnight. A handful of employees have launched claims of their own against Aaqua, alleging they were also misled about Apple and LVMH. Despite the fallout, filings show the Dutchman still holds a 5 per cent stake in Audioboom through his wife, Nashida.
Mr Bonnier has strongly denied the allegations of fraud in court documents, and claimed Candy has ‘mischaracterised’ their pre-contractual negotiations.
His adviser, Joel Hogarth of Eliot & Luther, said: ‘Nobody ever believed that there was a promise that Apple and LVMH would invest. There was talk about Apple and LVMH but that was a long way short of a contractual promise. It was an aspiration, not a promise.’
Nick Candy said: ‘We have reported him to authorities in numerous jurisdictions in the world and we look forward to seeing him in court. The UK FCA and Serious Fraud Office have been informed as have the FBI.
Candy, 50: One Hyde Park Mogul
Chelsea fan Nick Candy, 50, is one of the most successful businessmen of his generation. With his brother Christian, he burst on to the London property scene in the 1990s.
The public schoolboys from Surrey made a £50,000 profit on their first renovation – a flat in Earls Court, West London, bought with a £6,000 loan from their grandmother.
Their most ambitious developments included One Hyde Park – a looming tower of lavish apartments overlooking the West London park. The duo earned the nickname the ‘Brothers Bling’ as the developments made them fabulously wealthy and they began moving in celebrity circles.
In 2012, Nick Candy married pop singer and former Neighbours star Holly Valance in Beverly Hills, California. He has since branched out into fashion and technology investment through his fund Candy Ventures. In 2014, he turned his attention to the podcasting platform Audioboom, joining the board as a non-executive the following year.
Though not everything he has touched has turned to gold, in person he is relentlessly upbeat and ambitious. His town house office in Mayfair is lavishly decorated and includes an elegant bar with the finest wines from around the globe.
Bonnier, 53: Volatile dealmaker
Robert Bonnier, 53, is one of the most controversial City figures of the past 30 years. A Dutchman with a taste for the high life, his gambling on risky tech companies has seen him make and lose fortunes.
Born into a wealthy family in the Netherlands, he moved to London aged 23 and began working as an investment banker.
He quickly earned a reputation as a dealmaker.
By the late 1990s, he sought to cash in on the dotcom boom and was the driving force behind internet sensation Scoot, a directory business valued at £2.5 billion in 2000. His personal share was £150 million.
Bonnier basked in his new found fame. But when the dotcom bubble burst, his paper fortune crumpled.
Those close to him say he is a generous, suave, multilingual charmer, renowned for his lavish parties. But he can be volatile. A close source said: ‘You’ve got to know how to handle him.’ Bonnier was determined that the collapse of Scoot would not finish him off.
He later snapped up an interest in office space firm Regus – now named IWG. He claimed to have built up a 15 per cent stake, sparking takeover talk. However, he didn’t hold the shares but ‘contracts for difference’, which are bets on the future value of a firm.
More failed ventures and two divorces cost him his palatial Holland Park house in West London in 2008.