Lady Green, a trustee of the company, and Sir Philip will be questioned by the work and pensions committee about where hundreds of millions of pounds went from BHS and how its £571m pension deficit will affect Britain’s Pension Protection Fund, a rescue scheme funded by contributions from other pension pots.
MPs on the business committee also want to question the couple as part of its inquiry into the sale and acquisition of BHS. Sir Philip has been asked to say when he will be available to appear “in the coming weeks” for the special joint hearing for the entrepreneur.
Dominic Chappell, who led a consortium called Retail Acquisitions that bought BHS for £1 last year, is also being called as a witness by MPs.
Frank Field, chair of the committee, said: “The spine of our inquiry is looking at how and where money went out of the company, to whom it went, and how this may have disadvantaged the pensioners.”
Allan Leighton, the chairman of the Co-operative Group, is understood to be considering a rescue bid for part of BHS, nine years after leaving the chain. Administrators, who were appointed last week, are hoping to sell at least part of BHS as a going concern and save some of the 11,000 jobs at risk.
Leighton, a previous boss of Asda and the Royal Mail, is among up to 10 potential bidders looking at buying up to 60 BHS stores, and possibly the brand name, too. Other contenders are believed to include Sports Direct, Edinburgh Woollen Mill owner Philip Day, B&M Stores and Yousuf Bhailok, a Preston-based millionaire property owner.
Sir Philip has also been rumoured to be considering buying back the chain that he sold to the consortium led by Chappell, a former bankrupt.
Chappell, who led BHS into administration with debts of £1.3bn, has also claimed he is considering a bid for the company. He said: “We have some angles and we have a reasonable chance of getting a bid in.” A spokesman for BHS said such an idea was “pure fantasy”.
Leighton tried to buy the chain from Green nine years ago, just before the former Asda boss stepped down as chairman of BHS.
The retail heavyweight was chairman of BHS between 2000 and 2007, during which time he was paid more than £2.6m. Under his chairmanship, more than £422m in dividends was paid out to BHS shareholders, including the Green family, ragtrade entrepreneur Richard Caring and Scottish multimillionaire Sir Tom Hunter.
Leighton was not a shareholder, but was responsible for the running of the business, which was profitable throughout his tenure and had net pension assets of £3.4m before tax in March 2008, three months after he left.
Leighton’s interest in buying BHS comes as those involved in the troubled chain’s history are likely to face scrutiny. The Guardian has revealed that former racing driver Chappell could be forced to return millions of pounds paid to his consortium during its controversial 13-month ownership of BHS.
The legal director of BHS has written to Chappell asking him for £50,000 that has not been repaid after he moved £1.5m from the retailer to an obscure corporate vehicle in the days before the store chain’s collapse.
Meanwhile, the BHS administrators are also examining whether loans paid to Retail Acquisitions, Chappell’s consortium, can be called in.
City grandee Paul Myners said there were “big questions that need to be asked about the stewardship of this company under the ownership of Lady Green and the management of Sir Philip Green”.
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