Federal prosecutors charged Joseph C. Lewis, the British billionaire who owns the Tottenham Hotspur English soccer club, with insider trading on Tuesday, accusing him of illegally funneling nonpublic information to associates to trade on.
In a 29-page indictment, prosecutors in Manhattan accused the 86-year-old financier of doling out tips to friends and associates, including his pilots, personal assistants and romantic partners from 2019 to 2021.
“He used inside information as a way to compensate employees and shower gifts on friends and lovers,” Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. “It’s cheating and against the law.”
Prosecutors also accused Mr. Lewis of conspiring to hide a roughly 20 percent stake in Mirati Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company, through a series of shell companies and false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
A lawyer for Mr. Lewis, David Zornow, said that prosecutors had “made an egregious error in judgment in charging Mr. Lewis, an 86-year-old man of impeccable integrity and prodigious accomplishment.” Mr. Zornow added that his client had gone to the United States voluntarily to respond to the charges and planned to fight them in court.
From his home bases in the Bahamas, Florida and Argentina, Mr. Lewis owns the Tavistock Group, a vast web of businesses across 13 countries, including the Mitchells & Butlers chain of pubs, country clubs and hotels. Among Tavistock’s crown jewels is a majority stake in Tottenham, the English Premier League soccer club in north London that Mr. Lewis took control of in 2007.
On Wednesday, Tottenham said, “This a legal matter unconnected with the club and as such we have no comment.”
Mr. Lewis amassed a fortune from decades of currency trading, speculating on movements of the British pound — teaming up with George Soros in 1992 to mint huge profits — and the Mexican peso. Bloomberg has estimated his net worth at more than $6.5 billion.
Mr. Lewis grew up above a pub in London’s East End and helped transform his father’s catering company into a chain of themed restaurants. By age 15 he had dropped out of school to focus full-time on business, and after selling the restaurant business moved to the Bahamas as a way to avoid taxes.
For much of his career he has stayed below the radar, seemingly content to bet on real estate and play golf. But he has occasionally struck high-profile deals. In the 1990s, he bought a nearly 30 percent stake in Christie’s, the auction house, before selling that investment to François Pinault, a French luxury mogul.
And in 2007, Mr. Lewis emerged as an investor in Bear Stearns, spending more than $1 billion to accumulate a nearly 10 percent stake in the investment house over a matter of months. The timing of his bet proved terrible, however. In 2008, as the financial crisis unfolded, Bear Stearns was forced to sell itself to JPMorgan Chase for $10 a share. (He had paid as much as $110 a share.)
Mr. Lewis is also a high-powered art collector, who has owned pieces by Picasso, Matisse, David Hockney and more. Among his most prominent holdings are the original sculpture and several copies of “Charging Bull,” the iconic bronze ode to capitalism near Wall Street.