Tuesday 6 December 2016

High Court misled over Clerys closure, inspector claims

Tim Healy

Published 09/07/2016 | 02:30

Clerys department store
Clerys department store

Clerys Department Store in Dublin was bought following a number of secret meetings as part of a plan called 'Project Clock', the High Court has heard.

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The claim was made by one of the inspectors conducting an investigation into the collective redundancy of the store's 460 workers in June 2015.

That happened hours after the group of companies that owned and operated Clerys was sold to a joint venture called Natrium by its previous owners, the US Gordon Brothers group.

Natrium is a joint venture of Cheyne Capital Management in the UK, and a company of Deirdre Foley who is the owner of property firm D2 Private.

The inspectors, appointed by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), are opposing a challenge brought by D2 and Ms Foley against the WRC concerning the powers of the inspectors, who seized documents and a computer from D2's offices in May.

In a sworn statement, one of the inspectors, James Kelly, said events, including secret meetings, had taken place as part of a plan called 'Project Clock', concerning a takeover of the department store on June 12, 2015.

He said the decision to wind up the company was not taken on June 12, as has been claimed.

He said while Ms Foley and D2 say the transaction concerning Clerys was bona fide and above reproach, he said they had concealed information that seriously called into question the position being adopted.

It was also alleged the High Court was misled when an application to wind up the company that operated Clerys came before it hours after the takeover.

Representations made to the court on that date were utterly false, Mr Kelly said, adding that "a makeshift set of affairs" was presented to the court.

The decision to wind up the company was not made at arm's length nor was it independent of the applicants, Mr Kelly said.

Information was given to the High Court that impeded and complicated the investigation, he added. Ms Foley, in a sworn statement rejected "in the strongest possible terms" the inspector's claims which she described as "far fetched" and "irresponsible".

There were "no credible basis for such assertions" which were just "hearsay", she said.

She said the decision to liquidate the company, which was insolvent, was not taken by her or D2 or Natrium, who were never the employers of the workers.

It was taken independently by directors of OCS Operations Ltd, which had operated the stores and employed the workers.

Other parties, including an employee of D2, Mark Redmond, the OCS directors who took the decision to liquidate the company, Brendan Cooney and James Brydie, and Eamonn Richardson of KPMG who was appointed liquidator of OCS, also strongly rejected allegations of impropriety.

The information given to the High Court in respect of the winding up petition was accurate, Mr Cooney said in a sworn statement.

The hearing, before Mr Justice Michael Twomey, resumes next week.

Irish Independent

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