Mike Coupe, Chief Executive of Sainsbury's has been sentenced to two years in an Egyptian jail. The sentencing follows accusations that he tried to seize cheques connected with the collapse of a business the grocer had invested in 16 years ago.
It is understood that Coupe was forced to attend a court hearing in Giza last Sunday in an attempt to overturn a conviction for embezzlement.
Refuting the allegations, a Sainsbury’s spokesperson said:
“This relates to a historic commercial dispute in which Mr Coupe had no involvement," a Sainsbury's spokesman said. “Mike was not even employed by Sainsbury’s at the time of the original business deal in 2001 which gave rise to these legal proceedings. We are contesting these groundless allegations.”
As the supermarket chain’s chief executive and its most senior employee, Coupe has been held responsible by the court.
He was automatically convicted after he failed to attend court hearings, and could be arrested if he travels to Egypt.
The case has arisen from Sainsbury's failed attempts to break into Egypt in 1999 when the British retailer paid £10m for a 25% stake in the joint venture with local partner Amr El Nasharty, and subsequently £40m some six months later to raise it to 80%.
When Sainsbury's withdrew from Egypt three years later in 2001, it had around 100 stores and was losing £35m on sales of £80m.
According to Sainsbury's, El Nasharty bought the joint-venture from the UK retailer in 2001 but paid “with cheques that bounced".
"Mr El Nasharty is now claiming that Mike Coupe was in Egypt in July 2014 and tried to seize these cheques," the Sainsbury's spokesman added. "This is clearly ridiculous. Mike Coupe was in London carrying out his normal duties that day."