Clerys purchased after ‘secret’ meetings, court told

Inspector alleges decision to wind up company not made independently of applicants

Clerys was bought following "secret" meetings as part of a plan called Project Clock, it has been claimed at the High Court by inspectors investigating the collective redundancy of the Dublin department store's 460 workers.

A claim that Deirdre Foley, owner of property firm D2 Private, was involved in some of those meetings was rejected by her as "far-fetched" and "hearsay". Inspector James Kelly also alleged in court documents that "utterly false" information was given to the High Court when an application to wind up OCS Operations Ltd, the company that operated Clerys, came before the High Court in June 2015. His claims were denied by various parties in court documents.

The Workplace Relations Commission appointed Mr Kelly and Pat Phelan to investigate the collective redundancy of Clerys workers in June 2015, hours after OCS Operations Ltd was sold to a joint venture, Natrium, by the US Gordon Brothers group.

Natrium is a joint venture made up of Cheyne Capital Management in the UK, and another company of Ms Foley. She and D2 have brought a legal challenge concerning the powers of the inspectors, who seized documents and a computer from D2's offices in May.


Secret meetings

In a sworn statement, Mr Kelly said events, including secret meetings, had taken place as part of a plan called Project Clock concerning a takeover of Clerys on June 12th, 2015.

The decision to wind up OCS Operations Ltd was not taken on June 12th as has been claimed, he said. While Ms Foley and D2 say the transaction concerning Clerys was bona fide and above reproach, they concealed information that seriously called into question the position being adopted, he said.

The decision to wind up the company was not made at arm’s length and nor was it independent of the applicants, he added. Information was given to the High Court that impeded and complicated the investigation, he also said.

‘Utterly false’

Mr Kelly also claimed the High Court was misled when the application to wind up OCS Operations Ltd came before the court hours after the takeover had been completed. Representations made to the court on that date were “utterly false” and “a makeshift set of affairs” was presented to the court, he said.

Ms Foley, in a sworn statement, said she rejects “in the strongest possible terms” the inspector’s “far-fetched” and “irresponsible” claims.

The decision to liquidate the company, which was insolvent, was not taken by her, D2 or Natrium, who were never the employers of the workers, she said. The decision was taken independently by directors of OCS Operations Ltd, which had operated the stores and employed the workers, she said. Her counsel Eoin McCullough SC said the inspectors claims were prejudicial to his client and irrelevant.

Other parties, including Mark Redmond, an employee of D2; Brendan Cooney and James Brydie, the directors of OCS Operations who took the decision to liquidate the company; and Eamonn Richardson of KPMG, who was appointed liquidator of OCS Operations, also strongly rejected allegations of impropriety made against them by the inspectors in respect of the Clerys takeover.

The hearing, before Mr Justice Michael Twomey, resumes next week.