Richard Branson splits up $2.3 billion stake in Virgin Galactic

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NEW YORK – has broken out assets of the firm that held his in 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 (S$2.34 billion) were distributed to a firm Branson controls and to Aabar Space, an Abu Dhabi investment company, according to a regulatory filing.

Branson previously held his stake in Virgin Galactic through a company called Vieco 10, with his Virgin Group controlling 81% of the firm and the balance held by Aabar Space.

The distribution follows 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 Branson’s global brand – was rescued on the brink of collapse this month with a 1.2 billion-pound package.

Part of that deal included about 200 million pounds that 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 spokesman 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 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 Plc.

The 70-year-old entrepreneur has a net worth of US$5.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Aabar invested more than US$300 million in Branson’s space venture, which started trading publicly last year after merging with US investment firm Social Capital Hedosophia.

Aabar and 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% to $22.21 at 12.04pm in New York, paring this year’s gain to 93%.

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