Resignation paves the way for Wickes

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The Independent Online
Wickes, the DIY chain under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office and the Metropolitan Police, has paved the way for today's expected pounds 50m rights issue by announcing yet another boardroom resignation.

In a brief statement, Wickes said Sanford Kaplan had resigned as a non- executive director with immediate effect. Mr Kaplan, 80, is a close associate of Henry Sweetbaum, Wickes' former chairman and chief executive who resigned in June after disclosing past profits had been overstated by pounds 51m. Mr Kaplan is the sixth director to resign in as many months.

It is understood institutional investors insisted on his departure before agreeing to subscribe to the rescue rights issue.

Sanford Sigoloff, another non-executive director linked to Mr Sweetbaum, remains on the board, though insiders say his resignation is only a matter of time. Both Mr Kaplan and Mr Sigoloff, 65, are based in the US and have been criticised for failing to spot the accounting irregularities over five years that triggered the fraud inquiry.

An independent accountants' report confirmed "serious mismanagement" and "deliberate misrepresentation" of certain rebate and contribution arrangements with Wickes' suppliers.

Wickes is expected to draw another line under the Sweetbaum era today when it announces plans to abandon its overseas operations as part of a business plan contained in the rights issue prospectus.

Mr Sweetbaum had opened stores in South Africa, Belgium, France and Holland, as well as a conservatory business in the US, and planned to develop the Wickes concept around the world. It is expected these operations will be sold to concentrate on Wickes' 120 stores. The document will also include the restated 1995 accounts, results for the first six months of this year and a trading statement and forecast.