Biggest bankrupt lands in hot water yet again

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The Independent Online
Here's a blast from the past. William "Willie" Stern, once Britain's biggest bankrupt, and his son, Mark Stern, are facing proceedings to disqualify them as directors of public companies by the Department of Trade and Industry.

Mr Stern won fame in 1974 when his Wilstar property group collapsed and he was made personally bankrupt for pounds 118m, a UK record. That record passed to Rajendra Sethia in 1979, who went down for pounds 140m. Then Kevin Maxwell took up the baton with his pounds 406.5m bankruptcy in 1992.

The DTI launched proceedings against Willie and Mark Stern on 24 October this year in relation to Westminster Property Management and other companies. The Inland Revenue issued a winding up order against Westminster on 26 October 1994, and the DTI's disqualification proceedings will begin in court on 13 January.

A DTI spokesman said that "generally, disqualification proceedings are brought because a director is thought to be unfit to run a public company".

The dozy world of accountancy was electrified yesterday as a renegade professor claimed the head of one of the profession's leading figures.

Jim Waits, vice-president of the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants (Acca), tendered his resignation because of comments he made last week about Prem Sikka, a professor of accountancy at Essex University.

Mr Waits said in his resignation note that the Acca was right to expect its officers to uphold the high standing of the association and "unintentionally, comments which I made last Thursday did not fulfil that obligation".

The events refer to last week's EGM called by Professor Sikka to discuss greater democracy at Acca. Things went off quietly enough - all reform motions were heavily defeated as usual. Then up stood Mr Waits, in line to be Acca president in about 15 months' time. Mr Waits laid into Professor Sikka, accusing him of being anti-Semitic for seeking EGMs on a Saturday, sexist and racist, and suggesting he form his own organisation, called something like the Worldwide Association of Non-Chartered Certified Accountants.

Happily, Professor Sikka is in a conciliatory mood about what he calls "bar-room type language", said he forgives Mr Waits and urges that "everybody get back to the issues".

The professor adds that he was disappointed by the behaviour of an officer of a professional body and hoped Mr Waits would resign from the council, too. "If I ever needed to make my point about the need to get rid of leadership based on buggins' turn, this is it," he said.

Sir Richard Greenbury, executive chairman of the mighty Marks & Spencer, insisted his staff should be more polite to customers yesterday - just as he slapped down our own correspondent for the impertinence of asking more than one supplementary question.

Sir Richard, when asked by a German journalist yesterday what expansion plans he had for Germany, where Marks's has just opened its first store, said: "Our expansion plans are dictated by the pace at which we can acquire sites. If you have any knowledge or any inside tracks on where we can obtain sites in any one of 16 cities, please telephone Keith Oates [deputy chairman]."

M&S should be helped by liberalisation of German shopping hours, which until recently have been short. Now Teutonic shops can stay open until 4pm on Saturdays and 8pm on weekdays.

Richard Northcott has won the Alternative Best Use of AIM award from the AIM Newsletter for making the most money out of the market. Andrew Griffiths, editor of AIM Newsletter, said: "He has shepherded no fewer than three businesses to AIM this year."

Mr Northcott's best-known winner is Pet City, which made him pounds 26.5m recently.

AIM Newsletter quotes a friend of Mr Northcott's as saying: "He will be delighted. He likes people to know how well he is doing."