Mike Ashley has launched a stinging attack on advisers to Debenhams after the department store chain’s bondholders cleared the way for a £200m refinancing that would wipe out his 29% stake.
The founder and chief executive of Sports Direct said advisers should be jailed after Debenhams rejected a potential takeover bid from Ashley in favour of pressing ahead with its refinancing plans.
“I think that if there were any justice in the world the majority of the advisers would be put in prison,” Ashley said in a brief statement on Friday
It is the latest twist in the battle for control of Debenhams, which is struggling under a huge debt pile and a tough backdrop for high street retailers.
Earlier this week, Sports Direct said it would consider making a £61.4m offer for Debenhams, on condition that Ashley was immediately appointed chief executive of the ailing department store chain.
On Thursday, however, Debenhams’ bondholders agreed to alter the terms of some of their bonds in a move that gave the retailer the green light to press ahead with its £200m refinancing plans.
Debenhams has debts of £560m and is expected to lose £25m this year. Its shares have collapsed to only 2p and it is in urgent need of cash to keep trading. It has already announced that 50 of the group’s 165 stores are likely to close as part of the plans.
If the refinancing goes ahead, existing shareholders, including Ashley, will be wiped out.
Ashley has built up a stake in Debenhams over the past five years but in that time the fortunes of the chain have gone into reverse and the share price has tumbled from about 80p.
In January, Ashley told MPs he had already written off more than £100m of investments in the department store and now fears completely losing his grip on a retailer that has been a feature of UK high streets for more than 200 years.