Dominic Chappell, a former bankrupt who bought the BHS retail chain for £1, is being prosecuted by the Pensions Regulator for failing to hand over information relating to the failed high street group’s retirement fund.
The watchdog announced on Tuesday that it is to prosecute Mr Chappell for not providing information and documents it requested during its high-profile investigation into the sale of BHS.
Mr Chappell was the director and majority shareholder of Retail Acquisitions at the time the company purchased lossmaking BHS, with its 180 stores, for £1 in March 2015 from Philip Green, the billionaire retail magnate.
BHS collapsed into administration a year after the sale, leading to the loss of 11,000 jobs and putting at risk the pensions of about 20,000 current and former BHS staff as a result of a £571m deficit in its retirement fund.
The Pensions Regulator said it was prosecuting Mr Chappell for failing to comply with three notices issued under Section 72 of the Pensions Act between April 2016 and February 2017.
The notices were issued during an investigation into the collapsed store chain’s pension scheme, launched shortly after the business went into administration.
Mr Chappell has been summoned to appear at Brighton magistrates’ court in September to face three charges of neglecting or refusing to provide information and documents, without a reasonable excuse, when required to do so.
Failure to provide such information without a reasonable excuse is a criminal offence that can result in an unlimited fine, said the regulator.
The Pensions Regulator has on three occasions successfully prosecuted individuals for breaches of Section 72, with the action resulting in fines of less than £10,000 in each case.
The prosecution comes six months after the regulator reached a deal with Sir Philip to end a year-long dispute over the funding hole in the BHS pension scheme that had widened while the billionaire headed the business.
Under a deal with the regulator announced in February to close the watchdog’s investigation, Sir Philip agreed to inject £363m into the pension scheme.
The settlement between Sir Philip and the Pensions Regulator was reached on the basis of no admission of liability on the part of Sir Philip or the associated Taveta companies, owned by entrepreneur’s family.
The regulator also took enforcement action against Mr Chappell and Retail Acquisitions, which itself has been put into liquidation, as part of anti-avoidance probe into the collapse of BHS. Anti-avoidance cases are launched where the regulator believes a company or individual were party to an act that caused material detriment to a pension scheme.
The Pensions Regulator said that as a result a warning notice, which sets out a case against an individual or company, had been issued against Mr Chappell and the case was ongoing.
“Why was Sir Philip Green allowed to get away with an inadequate settlement, in which pensions have been cut, yet Dominic Chappell is going to be sued?” said Frank Field, chair-elect of the Work and Pensions select committee, which conducted a high-profile parliamentary probe into the BHS scandal.
“I’ll be consulting the House of Commons’ lawyers on when I can begin to unlock that puzzle, so that Mr Chappell has a fair trial.”
Mr Chappell was not immediately available for comment.