May 6, 2016
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UK lawmaker appoints Philip Green's former foes to help in BHS probe

May 6, 2016

The chairman of a British lawmakers committee has risked ratcheting up a row with retail tycoon Philip Green by recommending the appointment of two former adversaries of Green as advisors on an inquiry into the collapse of department store BHS.

BHS was placed into administration, a form of creditor protection, by owner Retail Acquisitions on April 25, putting the 88-year-old retailer at risk of disappearing from British shopping streets and jeopardizing 11,000 jobs.

Topshop-owner Green owned BHS for 15 years before selling it to Retail Acquisitions, a collection of little-known investors, for a nominal sum of one pound in March last year.

Given that BHS has a huge pension deficit, the pensions regulator is probing whether the retailer's previous owners sought to avoid their obligations.

Frank Field, the opposition Labour lawmaker who chairs parliament's Work and Pensions Committee, said on Friday he intended to recommend the appointment of David Norgrove as a senior specialist adviser to the committee’s probe into pension regulation and the BHS pension fund, which has a 571 million pound deficit.

He said the committee was also assembling a panel of financial assessors to assist them with the inquiry, to be led by Paul Myners.

Norgrove is chairman of the Low Pay Commission and was chairman of Marks & Spencer (MKS.L) pension fund trustees from 2000 to 2004. Myners is a former chairman of M&S and a former government minister.

As chairman of M&S Myners fought off Green's takeover bid for the retailer in 2004 in what was an acrimonious battle, while last month he publicly questioned Green's stewardship of BHS.

Green also clashed with Norgrove over M&S's pension fund during the bid.

Green's office declined to comment on the latest development.

Field's committee and the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee will hold their first evidence session on Monday.

Green hit out at UK lawmakers on Thursday for leading what he called a "trial by media".

In an interview with the Financial Times, Field said he would recommend Green be stripped of his knighthood unless there was a 571 million pounds settlement on the BHS pension deficit.

Green, who had in principle agreed to attend a hearing on June 15, has called for Field to step down from the committee, saying he is prejudiced.

Green had bought BHS for 200 million pounds in 2000 and when it was profitable paid out several hundreds of millions of pounds of dividends to his family.

BHS is also being investigated by Britain's Insolvency Service.


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