UK supermarket chain J Sainsbury said it will contest a “groundless” two-year prison sentence handed down to its chief executive Mike Coupe by an Egyptian court in connection with a historic commercial dispute between the retailer and a former joint venture partner.
Sainsbury said it “strongly refuted” the legal case brought against Mr Coupe by Egyptian businessman Amr El Nasharty, who partnered the retailer during its botched attempt to enter the Egyptian market 14 years ago.
El Nasharty had alleged that Coupe had broken Egyptian bankruptcy laws by “breaching trust” and seizing cheques relating to the collapsed business in Egypt, The Times reported.
“Mr Coupe was tried in absentia by an Egyptian court, without prior notice that he needed to attend,” the company said of the hearing last September.
Last weekend, having taken legal and diplomatic advice, Mr Coupe flew to Egypt to appeal against the sentence which has been deferred until next month, the company said, meaning there is no “immediate impact” on his ability to travel internationally.
“When Mr El Nasharty bought the Egyptian business back from us in 2001, he paid us with cheques that bounced,” Sainsbury said in a statement, adding that Mr Coupe was “not even employed” by the company at that time.
“Mr El Nasharty is now claiming that Mike Coupe was in Egypt in July 2014 and tried to seize these cheques. This is clearly ridiculous,” the company said, adding that Mr Coupe “has never met with the complainant”.
Joel Hills, ITV’s business editor, tweeted on Wednesday: “I can confirm that on July 15th 2014 Mike Coupe was not in Cairo “seizing cheques,” he was in London having breakfast with me. And he paid.”
Sainsbury said that Coupe was in London on the date in July that he was alleged to have taken the cheques, just two weeks after he became chief executive. He was performing his “normal executive duties” including an interview with a journalist, the company said, adding that the allegations were “very irritating”.
Before the appeal hearing, Coupe had only previously been to Egypt on holiday approximately 12 years ago, the company added.
“Mr El Nasharty has consistently made false claims against Sainsbury and individuals within the business over the years, all of which have been unsuccessful,” Sainsbury said in a statement.
“This process is being handled by our legal team and we do not anticipate it having any material operational or financial impact on the company.”
El Nasharty could not be reached for comment.
The Qatar Investment Authority, the emirate’s sovereign wealth fund, is the largest shareholder in Sainsbury.
At the market open in London on Wednesday, Sainsbury’s shares dipped 0.5 per cent to 265p.
Source: The Financial Times