Topshop billionaire's wife is still cashing in on doomed BHS

By Sam Greenhill

Sir Philip Green on his superyacht with Kate Moss in Monaco. Photo / Getty
Sir Philip Green on his superyacht with Kate Moss in Monaco. Photo / Getty

Sir Philip Green "fantastically enriched himself and his family" to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds at the expense of doomed BHS employees and pensioners, an MPs' report concludes today.

Even as they enjoy the sunshine aboard their £100 million superyacht, the disgraced tycoon and his wife Tina are still reaping bonanza payments from the remnants of their scuppered retail chain.

The personal greed of the tax-avoiding couple starved the once-proud British store until it was "on life support", say the MPs.

In a damning indictment, they say Sir Philip "systematically extracted hundreds of millions of pounds, paying very little tax and fantastically enriching himself and his family" - while leaving the company and its pension fund "weakened to the point of the inevitable collapse of both".

The report, following an inquiry by the Commons work and pensions committee and the business, innovation and skills committee, says the Greens perfected a "tax-lite" mechanism for extracting cash through the sale of property.

Wife still benefiting

Incredibly, Lady Green, the ultimate beneficiary of their vast wealth, is still striking the jackpot, thanks to an elaborate arrangement involving the Greens loaning money between their companies.

She is "still being paid tens of millions of pounds of tax-free repayments on the loan that was engineered to sell BHS from one Green family business to another, and will be for some years to come", say the MPs.

Sir Philip bought British Home Stores in 2000. By 2009 it was enmeshed in a complex web of his companies, many registered offshore, with Lady Green as the ultimate owner.

In his early years of ownership, Sir Philip cut costs and sold assets, but did not grow the business. Instead he took out some £1.2 billion overall, it is estimated. For example, in 2002-04, BHS made profits of £208m, but paid dividends of £423m. The MPs' report says: "We were told that the Green family received £307m of this."

UK top model Kate Moss on Sir Philip Green's yacht in Monaco. Photo / Getty
UK top model Kate Moss on Sir Philip Green's yacht in Monaco. Photo / Getty

They added that while Sir Philip, 64, funnelled "substantial dividends offshore to the ultimate benefit of his wife", the "so-called 'King of the High Street' failed to invest sufficiently in stores or reinvent the business to beat the prevailing high street competition".

Earlier this month, as the perma-tanned billionaire gave ill-tempered evidence to the inquiry, his wife was putting finishing touches to their latest superyacht, Lionheart, in Malta. As she boarded the £100m vessel - their third yacht - with a fluffy dog under her arm, an assistant applauded her.

Sir Philip Green's family accrued incredible wealth during the early, profitable years of BHS ownership.
MPs' report

Lady Green, 67, spent four years designing the four-storey luxury ship which has three lifts, a plunge pool, a beauty salon, a helipad and a fleet of jet-skis. Sir Philip, worth £3.5b, is understood to have recently taken delivery of a second private jet, a £46m Gulfstream. He also owns a helicopter.

The retail magnate, who ran his firms "as a personal fiefdom", was "vague" when asked by MPs about his choice of low-tax Monaco as a place of residence. His wife told the committee - by letter - that offshore locations were preferred for "their strong regulatory regimes".

Sir Philip insisted he had invested in BHS, putting in some £600m. But the report concludes: "Sir Philip Green's family accrued incredible wealth during the early, profitable years of BHS ownership. Over the duration of their tenure, significantly more money left the company than was invested in it."

In 2005, the parent firm of Sir Philip's Arcadia group of companies, Taveta Investments Ltd, paid a record dividend of £1.3b, described as "the biggest pay cheque in British corporate history".

But by 2014, "BHS was left on life support, having drawn on all its accumulated reserves and more as a result of large dividends and heavy losses".

MPs were scathing about the tactics used by the Greens to minimise their tax bills. For example, in 2001, BHS Group sold ten stores for £106m to Carmen Properties Ltd - a Jersey-registered company ultimately owned by Lady Green.

BHS Ltd then paid rent totalling some £153m to Carmen for the use of the stores - and £70m when the shops were ultimately sold back to BHS as part of the controversial sale to Dominic Chappell's group. The MPs say: "These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency." A similar sale-and-leaseback deal was struck for a property in Leeds.

This time it involved Mildenhall Holdings Ltd, another Jersey-registered company whose ultimate beneficiary was Lady Green.

Between 2005 and 2012, BHS paid £2.7million in rent to Mildenhall. As with the Carmen Properties deal, the rent would have been counted as income by Mildenhall, in a tax haven, while allowing BHS to register it as a cost and adjust its UK tax liability accordingly.

"BHS was involved in a number of transactions with a complex web of companies, many registered offshore. Whether BHS benefited financially from these transactions is far from clear. What is clear is that the Green family did," the MPs say.

In his evidence, Sir Philip demonstrated an "unfeasible degree of unfamiliarity" with the financial affairs of his family companies, and the flow of money between them, say the MPs. When it became clear that BHS's losses were out of control, the "over-arching interests of the Green family" took over, and he offloaded the retailer as quickly as possible, the report found.

It says: "He sought to sell a chain that had become a financial millstone and threatened his reputation. He knew that Dominic Chappell was a wholly unsuitable purchaser but overlooked or made good each of Chappell's shortcomings and proceeded with a rushed sale regardless."

The MPs conclude: "We found little evidence to support the reputation for retail business acumen for which he received his knighthood.

"We still do not doubt that Sir Philip has heartfelt affection for BHS. To an extent it created him; it could also bring him down."

- Daily Mail

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