British retail tycoon Sir Philip Green has called for the resignation of the chair of a lawmakers’ committee probing the collapse of the BHS department store chain he used to own, accusing him of seeking to destroy the billionaire’s reputation.
In March last year, TopShop-owner Mr Green sold BHS to an investor group led by Dominic Chappell, a former bankrupt with no retail experience, for one pound. The 88-year-old business went into administration in April and is being wound down after administrators failed to find a buyer, threatening 11,000 jobs.
BHS collapsed with a pension deficit of £571 million, based on how much it would cost to fully address the shortfall between assets and future liabilities with insurance or a buyout.
Britain’s Pensions Regulator is investigating if BHS’s former owners sought to avoid their responsibilities and should be pursued to make good the deficit.
The lower house of parliament’s Business and Work and Pensions committees are conducting a broader investigation, and Mr Green is scheduled to give evidence at a joint hearing on June 15.
In a letter to Frank Field, chair of the Work and Pensions committee published late Friday, Mr Green accused him of “leaping to conclusions” before hearing evidence and indicated he might not attend next week unless Mr Field resigns.
“I am not prepared to participate in a process which has not even the pretence of fairness and objectivity and which has as its primary objective the destruction of my reputation,” he wrote in the letter which was seen by Reuters.
“I therefore require you to resign immediately from this inquiry.”
Mr Green’s missive was prompted by comments Mr Field made to the Financial Times on Friday.
Mr Field told the newspaper his committee “would just laugh at him” if Mr Green were to offer less than £600m to settle the pensions deficit.
In his letter, mr Green told Mr Field: “You are not the Pensions Regulator and you have no power over the Pensions Regulator. Anything to do with the resolution of the BHS pension issues is in their jurisdiction and not yours and your continued participation in the inquiry will serve only to obstruct a resolution.”
In a statement released on Saturday, Mr Field did not address Mr Green’s resignation demand but said he was looking forward to seeing him on Wednesday.
“We appreciate that Sir Philip is trying to set up a deal for the pension fund, but £600m is the size of the deficit. That’s not jumping to any conclusion, that is a fact,” he said.
Mr Chappell told lawmakers on Wednesday he accepted partial responsibility for BHS’ collapse but said Mr Green and the retailer’s management should share the blame.
Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter