LONDON (Reuters) - Retail tycoon Philip Green has said the head of Britain’s Pension Regulator was “incorrect” when she told MPs this week that the media reported he was selling department store BHS before he informed her.
Lesley Titcomb, the regulator’s chief executive, told a joint parliamentary committee on Monday that she had found out from British newspapers that Green had sold BHS to Retail Acquisitions, a collection of little known investors, for a nominal sum of one pound in March last year.
But the company secretary of Green’s Arcadia Group wrote to MPs on Wednesday saying the regulator had been given advance notice of the sale, which concluded on March 11, 2015.
Last month Retail Acquisitions placed BHS into administration, a form of creditor protection, putting the 88-year-old retailer at risk of disappearing from British shopping streets and jeopardising 11,000 jobs.
The Pensions Regulator is investigating whether BHS’s previous owners sought to avoid their obligations and should be pursued for a contribution to make good its 571 million pounds pension deficit.
“The evidence of Ms Titcomb has been widely reported in the press, but it is incorrect,” Arcadia company secretary Adam Goldman said in a letter to parliament’s Work and Pensions and Business, Innovation and Skills select committees.
Goldman said that on Feb. 6 last year the regulator was notified by email that Green had decided to seek buyers for BHS.
He said communication with the regulator also included a March 4 meeting last year attended by Green and Chris Martin, chairman of the trustees of the BHS pension schemes.
“The Pensions Regulator was informed of key terms of the proposed sale of BHS business ... The sale consideration of 1 pound was expressly referred to,” Goldman said.
Titcomb wrote back to the Work and Pensions Committee on Wednesday saying a March 4 2015 meeting with the trustees and Arcadia did discuss the terms of a potential imminent sale. But it was to a company called Swiss Rock.
“We learned of the confirmation of the sale to Retail Acquisitions Ltd on March 11 when it was made public. The Pensions Regulator was not informed about this in advance,” said Titcomb.
“The Pensions Regulator subsequently learned that Swiss Rock had changed its name to Retail Acquisitions.”
The Work and Pensions Committee said it would now seek documentation charting all the regulator’s interaction with Arcadia and the trustees.
Goldman’s letter also sought to clarify dividends paid by BHS during Green’s ownership from 2000 to 2015.
He said dividends of 423 million pounds were declared for the years ending March 2002, 2003 and 2004, “which reflected the significant profits of the business at that time.” No dividends were paid after that.
Green has agreed in principle to give evidence to the parliamentary committees on June 15.
Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Ruth Pitchford