Goldman Sachs has written to MPs probing the collapse of BHS “to set the record straight” after former BHS owner Dominic Chappell made statements to the inquiry that the bank claims are “not correct.”
Chappell, a two-time former bankrupt with no former retail experience, bought BHS for £1 last year from retail billionaire Sir Philip Green.
Goldman Sachs banker Antony Gutman played an informal role advising Sir Philip on the deal and Gutman has already told MPs: “We indicated to them [Sir Philip’s Arcadia Group] that clearly the potential buyer here didn’t have retail experience, clearly the proposal was highly preliminary and lacking in detail. We also indicated that the bidder here did have a history of bankruptcy.”
Chappell last Wednesday gave his account of the deal to MPs but Goldman Sachs on Friday wrote to the inquiry to highlight three statements made by Chappell involving the bank that it claims are “incorrect.” They are:
- Chappell met with Gutman “two or three times” and his financial advisors Farallon Capital and RiverRock also met with him “two or three times:” Goldman says: “This is not correct.” The bank says Gutman only met Chappell in person once, met with RiverRock once dialed into a meeting with them on another occasion, and only spoke to Farallon on the phone once. Goldman adds that the bank and its staff did not meet with Chappell’s advisors Grant Thornton at all, as he claimed.
- Farallon told Gutman it was “very committed to doing this deal:” Goldman says that Gutman told Arcadia that Farallon was willing to finance the deal subject to due diligence and documentation, a very different level of enthusiasm. Goldman points out that this evidence is backed up by logs and documents submitted by the bank, as well as the evidence of Farallon Capital in previous sessions.
- Goldman saw a copy of Farallon’s funding term sheet: This document, outlining the provisional deal to fund a possible BHS takeover, was published on Parliament’s website last week. Goldman says the suggestion it had seen it before then is “incorrect.”
Goldman is the second party involved in the BHS probe to attack the evidence of Chappell. Lady Tina Green, the ultimate owner of Sir Philip’s Arcadia Group, has written to MPs to deny she even loaned Chappell or his company Retail Acquisitions Ltd £3.5 million to invest in BHS, as he claimed.
Chappell’s honesty was attacked during last Wednesday’s inquiry hearing too, with BHS’ former interim-CFO Michael Hitchcock accusing him of being a “Premier League liar.” Chappell later defended himself, insisting he acted only in the best interests of the department store.
Goldman goes on to say that it does “not believe that Goldman Sachs employees are able to provide the Committees with any new evidence.” MPs summoned Gutman back to the inquiry in the wake of Chappell’s evidence and summoned two other Goldman bankers to give evidence for the first time.
They are: Michael Sherwood, vice president of Goldman Sachs and a key ally of Sir Philip Green from the early 2000s onwards; and Michael Casey, whose involvement is not yet clear. Goldman say the pair are happy to answer written questions but don’t want to give in-person evidence to the committee.
Despite Goldman’s pleading not to be dragged any further into the BHS fiasco, Frank Field and Iain Wright, the co-chairs of the Parliamentary inquiries, have written to the bank saying they still want all 3 bankers to come in.
Field and Wright say they want to:
• Reconcile the description by numerous witnesses, independent of one another, of Goldman Sachs as “gatekeepers” to Sir Philip Green with the statement by Mr Gutman that Goldman Sachs’ role in respect of the Arcadia Group was “limited to providing preliminary observations on the proposals received, nothing more”; and
• Explore the nature and history of the relationship between Sir Philip Green and Goldman Sachs and its executives, including the other services provided by Goldman Sachs to companies within the Taveta group.
The MPs have also asked for written evidence ahead of the session about a meeting between Goldman Sachs and Eddie Parladorio, a lawyer who sat on the board of Chappell’s company Retail Acquisitions Ltd. MPs also want notes and documents relating to all meetings with representatives of Retail Acquisitions Ltd.
BHS went into administration in April, putting 11,000 jobs at risk. Its pension scheme has collapsed into the state-backed “pensions lifeboat,” with an estimated deficit of £275 million. The department store was owned by Sir Philip Green from 2000 to 2015 when it was sold to Dominic Chappell’s Retail Acquisitions Group.
As well as the joint Work and Pensions Select Committee and Business, Innovations, and Skills Select Committee inquiry, the BHS collapse is being probed by the Serious Fraud Office and the Insolvency Service.