Lord Harris makes a `load of Monet'

Lord Harris of Peckham, chairman of the Carpetright retail group, yesterday made a pre-tax gain of pounds 23m when he sold 4 million shares in the company at 569p.

The 54-year-old entrepreneur said he was selling the shares for "estate" reasons so he could avoid the payment of inheritance tax. He said he planned to use the proceeds, which will amount to pounds 14.5m after the payment of tax and dealing costs, to buy paintings and other works of art which he could pass on to his four children. "He has made himself a lot of Monet," one dealer said.

Lord Harris, who has undertaken not to sell any more shares in the group for two years, said: "I've got a big art collection and I'd like to get some more paintings." He has around 400 paintings and is particularly keen on impressionist masters such as Pisarro and Sisley. He does not keep the paintings at home but loans them to art galleries around the world. "I'm not telling you what I'm hoping to buy - the price will go up," he said.

Under inheritance tax rules, no death duties are paid on works of art until they are sold. That way, Lord Harris said, money could be passed down "through generations". Lord Harris has three sons and a daughter.

Lord Harris also revealed that, as a result of the share sale, he would make a donation to the Conservative Party. However, he declined to say how much. "It won't be pounds 23m. It won't be pounds 15m. It won't be pounds 1m." Asked if that meant he would be giving less than pounds 1m, he replied: "I'm not saying what I will give the Conservatives." He also revealed that he was considering relinquishing his position as deputy chairman of the board of treasurers for the Conservative Party following the election to devote more time to Carpetright.

The share sale, which was 2.5 times oversubscribed, was taken well by the City. Carpetright shares closed 7p higher at 598p.

The sale was announced alongside Carpetright's bumper interim results which showed a 38 per cent increase in pre-tax profits to pounds 14m in the six months to 26 October. Group sales were 27 per cent higher at pounds 106m.

Investment column, page 22

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