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High and dry investors angry over drained Aquaria

By Nicholas Bryant

Friday 12th May 2000

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PAPER LOSSES: Ritchie Marr
Irate investors in one of the market's most hyped stocks, Aquaria 21, are calling for action from directors after the shares collapsed and its e-commerce dreams evaporated.

One shareholder, Osbert Sun of Christchurch, who would lose half the money he put in the company if he sold his shares today, said small investors had been worst hit. "The time has come for a serious review of the drama surrounding Aquaria's business re-direction plan," Dr Sun said.

Another investor, Ritchie Marr, said he invested on the belief that "smart money" like that of Eric Watson, who holds 8.3% of Aquaria 21, meant a good thing was not far off.

Mr Marr is now sitting on paper losses of $68,000, losing 80% of the capital invested in options and 39% of the capital invested in head shares.

"With the dotcom illusion no longer there shareholders have been left with the remains of a raped company," Mr Marr said.

The dotcom plan was for Aquaria's assets to be sold to delisted Australian shell, Bliss Corporation, and a separate Australian company Oceanis, in return for Bliss shares.

The shares would then be on-sold once Bliss relisted on the Australian Stock Exchange to create a local cash shell set for a new life as an e-commerce investment company. That was enough to make Aquaria 21 one of the most talked-about stocks on the local exchange but the Nasdaq-driven correction and the lack of a tangible plan have dampened enthusiasm.

With the Bliss deal now dead, an announcement on the fate of Aquaria 21 was expected soon.

But disappointed investors were not happy to wait for the announcement and are demanding directors, including managing director Ken Wikeley, explain what has been going on.

"The books should be opened ... but the Stock Exchange is hopeless, and they will only pass you on to the Securities Commission which is similarly disinterested," Sharechat contributing analyst Frank Fernandez said.

He said at the very least there should be a suspension of trading in Aquaria 21 shares while the company was investigated.

The small investors are also aggravated by the flooding of new shares on to the market.

In February, 11 million new shares were privately issued at a 10% discount to market price, at a time when the company had made no announcement of its intentions.

There was no restriction of trading imposed on the new issues.

As a result the shares were quickly sold into the market making instant gains for those who had access to the private placements - deals done at the expense of unsuspecting investors.

They said the board should not have been raising money through a share issue without shareholder approval and with no obvious reason to do so which created an expectation of a rapid series of events to change the direction of the business.

Mr Wikely was not available for comment.

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