(Reuters) - Burford Capital (BURF.L), the litigation funder embroiled in a stand-off with short-seller Muddy Waters, on Thursday confirmed plans for a dual U.S. listing as it replaced its finance chief over investor concerns about her marriage to the CEO.
Burford was pitched into crisis last week after Muddy Waters issued a report challenging its accounts and governance structure, including the concentration of influence in the hands of Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth O’Connell and Chief Executive Christopher Bogart, her husband.
That sent the former stockmarket darling’s shares plunging more than 50% and at one point wiped as much as 2 billion pounds ($2.42 billion) from its valuation.
Burford, which is listed on London’s junior AIM market, said O’Connell was handing the financial reins to caretaker Jim Kilman, the company’s former principal investment banker at Morgan Stanley.
The move is part of a governance overhaul that includes bringing Bogart onto the board “in due course” and a search for two new board directors. Burford’s structure is unusual in that none of the management sits on the board.
Sending its beleaguered shares more than 13% higher, the company said it expected its plans for a secondary listing to result in further board changes and that it would prioritize a search for a permanent CFO when its new board had been reconstituted.
“Companies are owned by their shareholders and when shareholders speak, it is the role of boards and management to listen,” said Peter Middleton, Burford’s chairman.
“While we may take a different view on some of these points, shareholders have clearly spoken and we have listened, just as Burford has throughout its existence.”
Kilman, who has agreed to hold the CFO post for up to two years, would “buttress confidence in Burford’s financial disclosures” and guide the company as it explores a secondary listing in New York, or on London’s blue-chip market if a transatlantic debut is too challenging, Burford said.
Burford, which said O’Connell would take up a post of chief strategy officer, said it would be the first litigation finance firm to list in the U.S., where a listing would come with applicable disclosure and governance obligations.
The process of preparing for a U.S. listing could take several months, it said.
But Muddy Waters, founded by Carson Block — an American who built up his reputation by alleging fraudulent activities at Chinese firms he targeted — called the notion that Kilman would improve governance “a farce”.
“It is clear from this that Burford is more interested in imposing fig leaves than real guard rails,” Block said in a statement. “Burford investors would be much better served by a CFO from the outside.”
Additional reporting by Simon Jessop; editing by David Evans and Jan Harvey