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Agent Provocateur co-founder calls investors “fraudulent, negligent and incompetent”

The co-founder of British lingerie brand Agent Provocateur has attacked the private equity backers which bought his business, saying the firm “will never recover” from letting it slide into administration.
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As news emerges of a successful bid from Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley, Joe Corre has gone public with claims that 3i deliberately rejected a £35m offer that would have protected the brand, creditors and 650 jobs.

Corre, who set up Agent Provocateur in 1994 alongside his former wife and is the son of renowned fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, described the proceedings as a “phenomenal stick up” and added: “Just how 3i have decided the right business model is to deliberately road crash the business to wipe out anything owed to creditors or the taxman is quite unbelievable, when a higher offer on the table avoids them taking such action.”

Back in 2007, Corre and his wife, Serena Rees, sold Agent Provocateur to 3i for around £60m – retaining a 20 per cent stake. However, it suffered from falling sales in the luxury end of the high street and in November 3i wrote down the value of its 80 per cent stake by £39m.

According to Corre, who rejected an MBE in 2007 in protest at the UK’s invasion of Iraq, 3i’s decision to allow Agent Provocateur to enter administration is akin to Philip Greens’ behaviour over BHS.

Speaking before the deal with Sports Direct and Ashely was confirmed, Corre railed: “If this preposterous deal goes ahead with Mike Ashley, 3i and their partners are going to face a phenomenal swathe of litigation actions. 3i’s reputation is going to be left it tatters. I don’t think they will ever recover from this.”

The move by Sports Direct to acquire the lingerie brand out of administration follows a number of other similar deals involving distressed companies. In 2013, it bought fashion chain Republic after it suffered a similar fate, while in 2012 Firetrap and Full Circle were rescued from administration.

Ashley has bought Agent Provocateur in a pre-pack deal – meaning he gets assets of the business but does not assume liabilities like debt and any pension deficit.

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Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven is the editor of Real Business. He is also the editor of Business Advice, a title focused solely on a section of the business community currently underserved – micro companies. Alongside this, he is part of the team that hosts the Growing Business Awards, First Women Awards and Future 50 initiative.

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