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Richard Branson splits up US$1.7b stake in Virgin Galactic

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Richard Branson has broken out assets of the firm that held his stake in Virgin Galactic Holdings, giving the British billionaire greater control of his most valuable listed holding.

[LONDON] Richard Branson has broken out assets of the firm that held his stake in Virgin Galactic Holdings, giving the British billionaire greater control of his most valuable listed holding.

Shares in the space-travel company worth about US$1.7 billion were distributed to a firm Mr Branson controls and to Aabar Space, an Abu Dhabi investment company, according to a regulatory filing. Mr Branson previously held his stake in Virgin Galactic through a company called Vieco 10, with his Virgin Group controlling 81 per cent of the firm and the balance held by Aabar Space.

The distribution follows Mr Branson selling part of his Virgin Galactic stake to support his broader business empire amid the coronavirus pandemic. Virgin Atlantic Airways - the company most responsible for building Mr Branson's global brand - was rescued on the brink of collapse this month with a £1.2 billion (S$2.16 billion) package. Part of that deal included about £200 million that Mr Branson got from diluting his stake in Virgin Galactic.

"Following the recent sale of shares, it was agreed by the shareholders in Vieco 10 to distribute their remaining holdings," Virgin Group spokesperson Nick Fox said in a statement. Vieco 10 also holds shares in another Branson company, Virgin Orbit, which it will retain, Fox said.

Space tourism is one of the latest bets by Mr Branson, a serial creator of companies ranging from record labels to fizzy drinks. The Virgin brand he founded as a mail-order retailer in 1970 is now linked to more than 60 businesses, including British bank Virgin Money UK. The 70-year-old entrepreneur has a net worth of US$5.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

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Aabar invested more than US$300 million in Mr Branson's space venture, which started trading publicly last year after merging with US investment firm Social Capital Hedosophia. Aabar and Mr Branson both are subject to lock-up requirements until October 2021 for about three-quarters of their individual Virgin Galatic shares, according to the filing.

Virgin Galactic shares slid 2.9 per cent to US$22.21 at 12.04pm in New York on Friday, paring this year's gain to 93 per cent.

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