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Bear Stearns' Largest Holder Increases Stake

Billionaire Joseph Lewis disclosed in a regulatory filing Wednesday that he has increased his stake in hard-hit investment bank Bear Stearns to 9.57 percent.

Lewis has been building up his stake in Bear Stearns over the past few months, revealing in September a 7 percent stake which then increased to 8.01 percent earlier this month.

Lewis, a reclusive Englishman who splits his time between homes in Florida and the Bahamas, made a big splash in September when he snapped up $860.4 million worth of the bank's sagging stockto become one of its largest shareholders.

The latest filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission showed that Lewis' funds bought shares from Dec. 6 through Dec. 21 at prices varying from $89.08 to $110.00.

Lewis' buying of a larger stake in the company is the latest significant change in Bear's shareholder base, after China's CITIC Securities and Bear forged a deal in October to swap stakes in each other, giving Bear greater access to China's burgeoning stock brokerage business and aiding CITIC's global expansion plans.

Bear said it would buy $1 billion of CITIC debt that would convert over time to a 2 percent stake in the Beijing-based firm, while CITIC would invest about $1 billion in Bear Stearns securities that would convert to about 6 percent of the New York-based investment bank.

Lewis' investment vehicle, Tavistock Group, holds interests in more than 170 companies in 15 countries, including English Premier League soccer club Tottenham Hotspur, golf course developments in Florida, Alcatraz Brewing and life sciences companies.

Forbes this year put Lewis at No. 369 on its world ranking of billionaires, with a net worth of $2.5 billion.

Bear Stearns stock was down 7 cents to $88.73 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.