Mike Ashley, boss of Sports Direct and potential owner of half the rest of the high street, is veering into bonkers territory in his current battle to acquire retail giant Debenhams. He’s taken a lie detector test to verify his memories of meetings with the Debenhams board, and is asking Debs’ bosses to do the same.
Ashley’s Sports Direct already owns very nearly 30 per cent of Debenhams, although the chain is in the final stages of doing a deal with its lenders that would hand banks and hedge funds ownership of its assets – in return for writing off its debts. This would completely wipe out the value of all current shares and would leave Ashley’s chain with nothing to show for its £100m+ investment in Debenhams.
Hence it’s all kicking off a bit. Ashley accused the Debenhams bosses of acting out a “sustained programme of falsehoods and denials” in their attempts to keep him out of their boardroom and executive bathrooms, adding that “…misrepresentations were made to induce Sports Direct into signing a non-disclosure agreement, locking them out of any ability to trade in the bonds or equity of Debenhams.”
Back in sensible land, Sports Direct’s current official ambition is to underwrite a £150m new share placement or buy all of Debenhams for around 5p a share – with both deals coming with the demand that Ashley is instantly installed as CEO of the department store chain. This may not happen, though, as Debenhams is allowed to throw the chain into one of the dreaded pre-pack administrations as soon as close of trade today, handing ownership of the business to the banks and letting them sell the remnants to Anyone Other Than Mike Ashley. [Sports Direct via BBC]