// Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group says an independent investigation into Debenhams’ collapse is “obviously in the public interest”
// CFO Chris Wootton argues that Debenhams’ former board was to blame for the department store chain’s two administrations
// Wootton also says regulators and politicians have not done enough to investigate Debenhams’ downfall
Mike Ashley has reignited his row with former directors of Debenhams via a letter sent to Parliament which blamed the collapsed retailer’s board for its demise.
In a letter sent to the chairs of two House of Commons select committees, seen by Sky News, Chris Wootton – the chief financial officer at Ashley’s Frasers Group retail empire – said an independent investigation into Debenhams’ collapse was “obviously in the public interest”.
Wootton also reportedly argued that Debenhams’ former board was to blame for the department store chain’s two administrations and eventual departure from the high street, and that regulators and politicians have not done enough to investigate this.
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He reportedly highlighted a £35 million dividend pay out the then-Debenhams board approved in July 2018, nine months before its first administration.
Shortly after its first administration in April 2019, Debenhams launched a store closure scheme via a CVA.
However, by April 2020 – at the peak of the first nationwide Covid-19 lockdown – Debenhams fell into administration for a second time.
By the end of the year, Boohoo Group had bought the department store’s brand and intellectual property out of administration and to operate it as an online-only business.
This meant the remains of Debenhams’ business, namely its store estate of 118 sites, went into liquidation, with its last batch of stores shutting down for good in May this year.
Ashley’s company once held shares in Debenhams worth up to £300 million, with a near-30 per cent stake in the business.
This was all wiped out after the retailer’s first administration, during which Ashley grabbed headlines for trying to stage a boardroom coup as well as a failed takeover attempt.
“For several years we have been trying to have this matter investigated by regulators (e.g. the FCA) and select committees (BEIS) but people have passed the buck – we cannot understand it,” Wootton wrote, as quoted by Sky News.
“In 2019, our CEO, Mike Ashley, even met with members of BEIS and was in correspondence with Rachel Reeves to encourage an urgent investigation. This too seemed to fall on deaf ears.”
The news comes as Frasers Group recently applied to the High Court to set aside a settlement reached earlier this year with Debenhams’ administrators.
The move was designed to launch investigations into the collapsed department store group’s directors and advisors.
Under the settlement agreed with Debenhams’ administrators at FRP Advisory, Ashley was not to pursue legal action.