(Photo by Petr Kratochvil, via Wikimedia Commons)
Continental Breakfast: your daily update on what’s happening in Europe.
DLA Piper continues to profit from its role advising the administrators on the collapse of British high street retailer BHS, with a leaked document revealing that professional advisors racked up another million pounds in fees in less than six weeks.
The latest report by joint administrators Duff & Phelps and FRP Advisory, which was circulated to creditors earlier this week and seen by Sky News, showed that professional advisors earned an additional 1.125 million pounds ($1.39 million) between October 25 and December 2, bringing the total cost of BHS’ administration to almost 3 million pounds ($3.7 million).
(While substantial, that figure pales in comparison to the almost $450 million earned by Weil, Gotshal & Manges in acting for the bankrupt estate of Lehman Brothers.)
BHS was put into administration in April in one of the U.K.’s largest ever corporate failures. More than 11,000 jobs were lost and 20,000 pensions (the U.K. equivalent of a 401k) put at risk after it emerged that the company, which had more than 160 stores across the U.K., had a pension deficit of 571 million pounds ($703 million).
Sir Philip Green, a retail magnate with a net worth of more than $5 billion, has been heavily criticized for his role in the collapse of BHS. Green and other shareholders had taken around 580 million pounds ($714 million) out of the business before selling it for just 1 pound ($1.23). (Politicians in October unanimously backed calls for Green to be stripped of his knighthood, labelling him a “billionaire spiv.”)
The saga has involved a number of leading U.K. and U.S. law firms.
Linklaters acted for Green’s Arcadia Group on the sale of the company to Retail Acquisitions, which was advised by London-based technology, media and telecoms specialist Olswang.
Weil Gotshal & Manges and DLA then took the lead roles on the administration, acting for the company and administrators, respectively, while Jones Day was appointed by the administrators to investigate the actions of the company’s former directors.
Partners at Eversheds, Linklaters, Olswang and Nabarro were among those questioned by a government committee investigating the company’s sale and pension deficit. Nabarro had provided pensions advice to Arcadia owner Taveta, while Eversheds advised the trustees of the BHS pension plan. Linklaters and Olswang were criticized by the government for having only carried out “cursory” checks into Retail Acquisitions, whose owner, Dominic Chappell, had previously been declared bankrupt three times. It was revealed after BHS’s demise that Chappell had used a 1.5 million pounds ($1.8 million) BHS loan to repay the mortgage on his family home.
London media and privacy boutique Schillings then got involved after it was hired by Green to threaten one of the co-authors of the government report. The firm wrote to politician Frank Field to demand an apology after he claimed Green had “plundered” the BHS pension scheme.
Green also commissioned two of the U.K.’s top barristers to produce a legal opinion that dismissed the findings of the parliamentary inquiry as “bizarre” and “unsupportable,” and also criticized the inquiry’s “unfair” and “biased” approach for blaming Green before it had spoken to any witnesses. (Barristers are specialist U.K. advocates who represent clients in court, typically operating independently from stand-alone “chambers” instead of law firms.)
An earlier administrators’ report, produced in November, revealed that Green’s Arcadia Group, BHS’s biggest secured creditor, has a 35 million pounds ($43 million) floating charge over the defunct company’s assets. The money was transferred by Duff & Phelps to Linklaters, which held it in an escrow account, according to Sky News. The funds were returned to Duff & Phelps and subsequently transferred to FRP after Jones Day raised concerns over whether Arcadia is a so-called connected party and therefore may have to forfeit its sole right to the charge, Sky News adds.
The administrators have told BHS’ 7,500 unsecured creditors, who have claims totaling 1.3 billion pounds ($1.6 billion), that they can expect returns of just 2-8 percent.
Key Business Survey Reveals Modest Recovery In U.K. Service Sector
A new survey of more than 7,000 businesses has revealed that the U.K. service sector has started to recover after being dented by the country’s decision to leave the European Union.
Service firms achieved higher growth in revenue and profit in the last three months of 2016 compared to the previous quarter, according to the report, published today by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), which represents U.K. business interests around the world.
Confidence in future revenue, hiring and investment also improved in the fourth quarter, having fallen as a result of the Brexit vote.
Growth is still significantly below the levels seen before the EU referendum, however, while the BCC warns that rising inflation and the weakening of the British pound will prove challenging for firms in 2017.
BCC director general Adam Marshall says that inflation is “squeezing margins and may weaken future investment.”
Suren Thiru, the organization’s head of economics, adds that the U.K.’s growth prospects in the near-term are likely to be “weighed down by rising inflation and the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.”
KWM Europe Stops Paying 100 Staff As Administration Nears
King & Wood Mallesons’ European arm has put 100 members of staff on unpaid leave, pending redundancy, as the firm continues its slide towards administration.
The employees were informed by letter earlier this week that they are still employed by the firm, but would no longer be paid, reports The American Lawyer’s U.K. sister title Legal Week.
KWM Europe has been breaking apart since October, when its planned $18.4 million recapitalization collapsed following the shock resignation of four senior partners. More than 40 partners have since left the firm, which recently filed a notice of intention to appoint an administrator.
KWM’s China arm, which is a separate entity as the firms combined in 2013 via a Swiss verein holding structure, is in discussions to acquire a team of more than 10 London dispute resolution lawyers from KWM Europe, as it seeks to retain a small outpost in the region.
The American Lawyer recently published an in-depth feature looking at what has caused KWM Europe’s downfall. You can read that article here.