Sir Philip Green has poured cold water on a report that he is in talks to sell his Arcadia retail empire, which includes Topshop and Miss Selfridge, to the Chinese firm Shandong Ruyi.
Green issued the denial as the work and pensions select committee chair, Frank Field, wrote to him demanding assurances that Arcadia’s pension schemes would not be “detached” from the tycoon’s family interests in the event of a sale.
In a statement, Green and the Arcadia board said reports in a Sunday newspaper that they were plotting a sale to Shandong Ruyi were “totally false”.
“Neither Sir Philip nor any of the directors of Arcadia have ever met or had any contact with Shandong Ruyi, and they have never been to the Arcadia offices as was suggested to look at the company’s books,” the statement said.
Arcadia also denied that discussions about a deal had taken place with HSBC, adding that there was “no truth” in the suggestion that Green has been “seeking a buyer for some time”.
“The 22,000 people that work at Arcadia should not be subjected to this type of malicious rumour-mongering,” the company said.
The denial came shortly after Field published a letter in which he called on Green to clarify the future of Arcadia’s pension scheme, which has a £565m deficit, in the event of a sale.
Field said pensioners should not be “hung out to dry”, reminding Green of the fallout that followed his sale of the BHS chain for £1 to the serial bankrupt Dominic Chappell.
The subsequent collapse of BHS triggered a long-running saga that ended with Green paying £363m into a scheme with a deficit of £571m, after a settlement with the Pensions Regulator under which he avoided enforcement action.
Field advised Green that he should seek approval from the regulator before seeking to sell Arcadia in order to “spare you another moral hazard investigation”.
In its statement, Arcadia said it was not in any sale talks that could affect the scheme and also pointed to a commitment the company made last year to double pension contributions to £50m in an effort to close its deficit within a decade.