As shares tumble in father and son’s crypto business… Prince Andrew’s tycoon friends hit by Bitcoin company losses
Businessman Jonathan Rowland and his father David, who is famous for funding Prince Andrew, have lost millions in a failed cryptocurrency venture. Jonathan, 47, is ending much of Mode Global Holdings, a bitcoin app he founded, after failing to get the money he needed to survive.
Mode Global was the latest in a series of businesses started by the serial entrepreneur, with mixed success.
His father David, 77, a property mogul and prominent Conservative Party donor, had a stake in his son’s business. Rowland senior, nicknamed “Spotty” for his relative youth when he took his first company public at the age of 23, has accumulated vast wealth through real estate and banking.
Royal ties: Jonathan Rowland and his then-girlfriend Anya at Princess Eugenie’s wedding
Jonathan, eager to follow in his father’s footsteps, had big ambitions for Mode. He wanted to transform it from a payment app to the “most trusted” crypto company in the world. Christopher Isaac ‘Biz’ Stone, an American technology investor and co-founder of Twitter, also owned shares.
Less than two and a half years since Mode was listed on the London Stock Exchange, those dreams are in tatters.
Investors saw their holdings virtually wiped out as the share price fell from its high of 77p in February 2021, when Mode was valued at £62m, to half a penny last week.
However, it is far from being the first embarrassment for the duo father and son, in particular on their relationship with prince Andrew.
David Rowland – a longtime resident of Guernsey who has been dubbed the ‘tax haven tycoon’ – acted as financial adviser to the Duke of York. He had a ringside seat at the wedding of his daughter Princess Eugenie in 2018.
The previous year, Rowland senior reportedly repaid a £1.5million loan for Andrew through his Luxembourg bank, Banque Havilland. Leaked documents have revealed the Duke of York also sought a £200,000 loan from Jonathan Rowland, who was the bank’s managing director at the time. On another occasion, David and Jonathan flew to North Korea, widely considered a pariah state under dictator Kim Jong Un, to look into an “investment opportunity”.
David owns a palatial estate in Guernsey called Havilland Hall – where in 2005 Prince Andrew unveiled a life-size bronze statue of Rowland smoking a cigar.
Money backer: David Rowland has repaid a £1.5m loan for the Duke of York
Jonathan struggled to step out of his father’s shadow and emulate his success in business. After spending years as a racing driver, he made headlines in his twenties when he started an internet investment company called Jellyworks. Its shares initially surged, and at its peak the business was valued at £300m.
But within six months, it disappeared from the stock market due to difficulties in raising new funding. More recently, he co-founded a small business lender called Redwood Bank, and was even linked with a bid for crisis football club Wigan Athletic.
His personal life was also turbulent. He once revealed he had a stroke while in bed with a woman he ‘shouldn’t have been with’ – but joked that at least she was there to call an ambulance.
Jonathan is the heir to a fortune estimated at hundreds of millions of pounds.
He and his father owned about 30% of Mode Global’s shares, but were clearly unwilling to invest more family wealth in the business. Mode will begin liquidating large parts of the business this week – shutting down its app in the coming weeks and closing subsidiaries Fibere and JGOO.
Earlier this month, chief executive Rita Liu stepped down.
The mode uses open banking to allow customers to transfer money to their accounts, which they could then use to purchase Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. It is also a payment app and customers could receive Bitcoin “cashback” for purchases at its partner brands.
The group has urged customers to withdraw their money, but it is unclear whether there is a deadline or how much money Mode is holding. Bitcoin itself was owned by a company called Bitgo.
Mode said customers’ cash and cryptocurrency assets “will remain safe” and there are no restrictions on withdrawals.
Jonathan declined to comment.