To some, he is a real-life Willy Wonka. To others, he is a Bond-style villain bent on taking over the world's supply of chocolate.
In a stroke, a hedge fund manager named Anthony Ward has all but cornered the cocoa market. By one estimate, he has bought enough to make more than five billion chocolate bars.
Rival traders are crying foul, saying Ward is stockpiling cocoa in a bid to drive up already high prices so he can sell later at a big profit. His activities have helped drive cocoa prices on the London market to a 30-year high.
Ward, 50, is not some rabid chocoholic, former employees say. He simply has a head for cocoa. And, through his private investment firm, Armajaro, he now controls a cache equal to 7 per cent of annual cocoa production worldwide.
"Globally, he is unmatched in his knowledge of cocoa," said Tim Spencer, a former Armajaro executive.
Armajaro maintains offices in West Africa, helping Ward keep tabs on major cocoa crops.
Now, traders here are buzzing that Ward has placed an audacious $1 billion bet in the London market for cocoa futures. This month, he bought 241,100 metric tons of beans, they say. His play has some people up in arms. While some see it as a simple bet that cocoa prices will rise on falling supply, others say Ward has created a shortage of cocoa to drive up the price himself.