The boss of one of Britain’s biggest supermarkets, Sainsbury’s, was acquitted on Thursday of embezzlement charges in Egypt brought against him as a representative of the supermarket.
The charges were related to claims by Amr el Nasharty, who owned an Egyptian grocer, called the Egyptian Distribution Group, in which Sainsbury’s bought an 80% stake in, in 1999.
In April, el-Nasharty claimed that Mike Coupe and Sainsbury’s tried to seize cheques linked to a collapsed Egyptian business Sainsbury’s invested in 16 years ago. Coupe was automatically convicted of the crime, however, because he “failed to attend the court hearings.”
Sainsbury’s appealed the conviction and today Coupe was acquitted of all charges.
Sainsbury’s said in an emailed statement to Business Insider:
We are pleased that justice has prevailed today, with the court ruling in favour of Mike, and ultimately Sainsbury’s.
We have always strongly refuted the legal case in Egypt brought against our Chief Executive Mike Coupe, which relates to a historic commercial dispute which has absolutely nothing to do with Mr Coupe.
Mike was not employed by Sainsbury’s at the time of the original dispute in 2001 and has never met the complainant Mr el-Nasharty. el-Nasharty has brought several claims against the supermarket and its employees in the intervening years, all of which have consistently been rejected as spurious and without basis in fact.
Mr Coupe was not in court to hear the verdict, which was relayed by Sainsbury’s legal representatives in Egypt.
The legal case
The conviction stems from Sainsbury’s attempt to enter the Egyptian market in 1999. It bought an 80% stake in Egyptian Distribution Group, also known as Edge.
But Sainsbury’s and its acquisition faced fierce opposition from the Egyptian people and a boycott of its stores in Cairo and Giza. Less than two years after trying to enter the market, it made £10 million ($US15.3 million) of operating losses and withdrew from the country.
Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s apparently sold back its Edge shares to its founder Amr El Nasharty when it left the country in 2014. El Nasharty said he was forced to take a charge of £111 million ($US170.3 million) to cover its losses.
He then claimed for compensation from Sainsbury’s after saying he was unaware when he was sold back the shares that the business was insolvent and had substantial tax liabilities.
In July last year, Coupe took over from Justin King as CEO. Egyptian authorities alleged that he attempted to seize the cheques from the defunct company.