Taxman on the trail of Hinchliffe

Revenue contacts police investigating Facia

The Inland Revenue is examining the affairs of controversial Sheffield businessman Stephen Hinchliffe in the latest twist to the saga of his failed Facia retail empire.

Inspectors from the Revenue's Nottingham headquarters are understood to have contacted police investigating the affair, in addition to routine inquiries to Facia's administrators.

Mr Hinchliffe is already the subject of a Serious Fraud Office inquiry following the collapse of the Sock Shop to Saxone shoes group with pounds 70m of debts last June.

Ten days ago, the SFO and South Yorkshire police raided homes and offices belonging to former bankers to Facia and an associate of Mr Hinchliffe.

The new investigation focuses on alleged corruption at Israel's United Mizrahi Bank over loans to Facia and other clients.

UMB is already suing former staff over alleged backhanders received in return for making loans.

This weekend, the Inland Revenue declined to comment on the extent of its inquiries.

"We can ask questions of any source if merited. It is not possible to comment on individual investigations," one source said.

Mr Hinchliffe's City lawyers, Peters & Peters, also declined to comment on his tax affairs.

His solicitor Keith Oliver, however, repeated the businessman's denial of any wrongdoing connected to the collapse of Facia.

Since December, the Facia group's affairs have been in the hands of liquidators from BDO Stoy Hayward, who are now in talks with Mr Hinchliffe over recovery of payments to his network of private firms.

These include Chase Montagu, his Sheffield-based master company, and Colibri lighters, which was lent pounds 1.97m by Facia.

This weekend his solicitors denied talk that Mr Hinchliffe was trying to sell Colibri which, like all his assets, is covered by a court restraining order.

"Mr Hinchliffe is engaged in very constructive discussions with the newly appointed liquidators of Facia in relation to Colibri, and with third parties concerning the future growth and development of its business," Mr Oliver said.

"There is no question of him disposing of his controlling interest."

Meanwhile, the latest accounts for Chase Montagu for 1994, filed at the beginning of January, have been heavily qualified by the auditors, who blamed seizure of documents by the SFO.

Like many of his private firms, however, legally the accounts were already late by the time of the SFO involvement.

They show net assets of pounds 723,000 at the end of 1994, including pounds 1.38m for Mr Hinchliffe's collection of paintings and classic sports cars. Since then, however, Chase Montagu is understood to have received more than pounds 1.5m from Facia Ltd alone.

Up to the collapse, payments continued at a profligate rate: monthly expenditure on helicopter hire alone was running at pounds 23,500 and rent for Mr Hinchliffe's plush Eaton Row residence in London at pounds 10-12,000.

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