Clothing tycoon Sir Philip Green has come out fighting after being called to give evidence to MPs over BHS.
The high street chain collapsed late last month with a £571m pensions fund black hole less than a year after being sold by the businessman for £1.
Following the news, the Financial Times claimed that Green’s wife, Tina, had “siphoned £1bn out of the business” during the 15 years he owned the company.
Green confirmed earlier this week that he would will appear before both the work and pensions and the business select committees to answer questions on the store’s demise. Yesterday, speaking for the first time on the controversy, he wrote to the chairs of both, accusing them of “leaping to conclusions”.
At the same time, Green issued a statement calling on Frank Field to resign as head of the work and pensions committee for telling the FT he would recommend the businessman was stripped of his knighthood if he does not pay the BHS pensioners.
“I am horrified that Frank Field is prepared to make comments like this in public,” said Green.
“Clearly he has already made his decision as to what he feels the punishment should be without even hearing any evidence from anybody about BHS or the circumstances of the last 15 years.
“As Monday is the first hearing with the regulator and the PPF [pension protection fund], how can this be a balanced hearing based on this outrageous outburst this afternoon?
“I think Mr Field needs to stand down from the inquiry immediately as he is clearly prejudiced.”
In the letter to both Field and his business committee counterpart, Ian Wright, Green says there has been “much inaccurate and misleading information” about his actions in relation to BHS, says the Daily Telegraph, which has seen a copy.
The Insolvency Service is investigating the collapse of BHS after an intervention by Business Secretary Sajid Javid last week, adds the paper, while the Serious Fraud Office is believed to have begun a preliminary investigation and the Pensions Regulator is looking into the £517m deficit.
Who is Sir Philip Green?
Born in Croydon in 1952, Green started his first business at the age of 21 with a £20,000 loan from his property developer father – about £218,000 in today’s money. He imported jeans from Asia and sold them on to London retailers.
Forty-three years later, he is chairman of the Arcadia group, which owns Topshop, Topman, Wallis, Evans, Burton, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, Outfit and – until last year – BHS.
What is his reputation?
Green is often dubbed the “King of the High Street” and is famous for rubbing shoulders with celebrity royalty such as supermodel Kate Moss, who designed collections for Topshop. He’s also a “a short man with a famous temper”, according to the Financial Times.
But behind the “facade of a foul-mouthed market trader” lies a “former public schoolboy”, observes Alex Brummer for the Daily Mail, and one who happens to have “one of the shrewdest brains on the High Street”.
How much did he profit from BHS?
The Mail says “an estimated £400m has been extracted” in dividends and transferred to “holdings controlled by Tina Green [Sir Philips’ wife] in Monaco”.
The Guardian says the Green family collected another £186m on top of that in the form of rental payments and interest on loans during the businessman’s 15-year stewardship of BHS. According to the FT, Tina Green has “siphoned £1bn out of the business”.
Is it as simple as that?
Maybe not. Green has been “demonised”, writes Jonathan Guthrie in the FT, and the truth is more “nuanced”. If he really wanted to milk the company and then dump it on a new owner with the pensions deficit a liability, he should have sold it as far back as 2008, says Guthrie. He may have taken out £400m in dividends but he paid £200m to buy the store.
Does he pay any tax?
Yes – the Mail notes: “Sir Philip forcefully points out that, though these dividends siphoned from BHS leave the country for Monaco tax-free, the Arcadia companies, BHS and his other UK-based enterprises have always paid their full corporation taxes, business rates, national insurance and other British taxes under his stewardship.”
Could he lose his knighthood?
Knighthoods can, in rare circumstances, be revoked – former RBS boss Fred Goodwin and spy Anthony Blunt are two examples – but the call has been for Green to give his up or pay up.
He has, in fact, offered to pay £80m towards the £571m pensions deficit. The 11,000 workers who will lose their jobs if the stores close may feel that is not enough. Guthrie says the Pensions Regulator is “right to go after him” for some £280m.
With his tongue firmly in his cheek, The Independent‘s Matthew Norman says the idea of removing Green’s knighthood is “perfectly obscene”. Instead, he should be ennobled further – as Baron Green of Monaco for his services to that tax haven.