LONDON — Sir Philip Green has gone on the offensive ahead of a debate in the British Parliament on whether to strip him of his knighthood, an honor granted in 2006 by former Prime Minister Tony Blair for services to retail.
Directors at Taveta Investments, the holding company for Green’s retail businesses, hired two law experts, Lord Pannick and Michael Todd, to conduct an independent review of the July parliamentary report following an investigation into the failed retailer BHS.
The report, by the joint parliamentary committee that was looking into the collapse of department store chain, accused Green and Dominic Chappell, who purchased BHS from Green last year, of plundering the company’s coffers and allowing the pension fund deficit to swell to 571 million pounds, or $695 million.
All figures are calculated at average exchange rates for the periods to which they refer.
The report, by the Work and Pensions, and Business, Innovation and Skills Committees, described the BHS debacle as “the unacceptable face of capitalism” and said the lessons learned merited broader consideration of the framework in which companies operate.
Separately, the head of the Work and Pensions Committee, Frank Field, has repeatedly asked Green to pay money from his own pocket to close the pensions gap. Green publicly apologized for his role in the debacle and said he is working to find a solution to the pension deficit.
The review by Pannick and Todd points out that the main causes of the pension deficit were “the increasing longevity of pensioners and the global financial crisis in 2008” (rather than Green’s and his pensions trustees’ mismanagement).
It also argues that the 307 million pounds, or $522 million, in dividends paid to Green between 2002 and 2005 were lawful “and paid at a time when the BHS pension schemes were in surplus,” ten years before the retailer was sold, with “far more” invested by Green in BHS than taken out in dividends.
The report said that as part of the final sale, BHS was provided with “sufficient cash and assets to survive.”
The report also called the parliamentary inquiry process “unfair” and its report “inaccurate and distorted.” It said Green and his team are continuing with “serious and extensive efforts” with the Pensions Regulator to find a solution for the 20,000 BHS pensioners.
Green sold the BHS business last year for 1 pound, or $1.50, to Retail Acquisitions, a consortium led by Chappell, a twice-bankrupt former race car driver who had no retail experience. Earlier this year the retailer was placed into administration, and finally shut its doors in August after no buyer was found, with 11,000 jobs lost.
The joint parliamentary investigation was one of a number of probes into the sale and management of BHS by bodies including the pensions regulator and the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office, the government body that investigates and prosecutes serious and complex fraud, bribery and corruption.
The parliamentary investigation found the breaches were ethical rather than criminal. No charges have been filed in relation to the case.
On Thursday, parliament is due to discuss the committee’s report and whether Green should be stripped of his knighthood.
Parliament’s decision is not binding: It can only make a recommendation to the prime minister who would then have to pass the request to the Honours Forfeiture Committee, whose discussions are confidential.
If the committee recommends that an honor be withdrawn, the decision is then sent by the prime minister to Queen Elizabeth, who decides if the honor should be forfeited.
According to the U.K. government web site, honors can be taken away from people who have been sentenced to prison for a criminal offense or struck off by a professional or regulatory body.