Censured BHS auditor re-emerges at luxury property start-up | Business News


The auditor censured after signing off BHS’s accounts prior to its controversial sale by Sir Philip Green has emerged as the finance chief of a luxury real estate start-up involving some of the City’s leading figures.

Sky News has learnt that Steve Denison, who left PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) after a 30-year career last year, has joined the board of Vontsira, which is based in London and Florida.

It comes nearly 12 months since Mr Denison was fined £325,000 and effectively frozen out of the audit profession for 15 years by the Financial Reporting Council (FRC), the under-fire accountancy watchdog.

According to a memo circulated to PwC partners last June, he was accused of backdating his audit opinion and spending just two hours working on the BHS audit file.

Mr Denison, who also audited Taveta Investments, the holding company for Sir Philip’s Burton-to-Top Shop high street empire, is understood to have contested many of the watchdog’s conclusions.

In the wake of his exit from PwC, he also stepped down as the chairman of Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

Philip Green is BHS’s former owner

His appointment as Vontsira’s chief financial officer does not conflict with the FRC’s requirement that he should not undertake audit work for 15 years.

Vontsira is focused on activities including acquiring underperforming US hotels and striking partnerships with luxury brands such as Aston Martin.

The company is chaired by Sir Nigel Knowles, the former head of City law firm DLA Piper.

Speaking to Sky News on Friday, Sir Nigel said he had had no reservations about appointing Mr Denison.

“I have known Steve Denison for many years, hold him in the highest regard as a man of integrity and am delighted to be chairman of a company in which he is involved,” he said.

“Steve has never shied away from giving a comprehensive account of his story; it is only a pity that the full context wasn’t reported in a balanced way at the time.

“It is extremely sad that he became a scapegoat in the middle of a highly politicised situation.

“I admire Steve for the way he continues to rebuild following the circumstances that cost him his previously unblemished, excellent reputation.‎”

Vontsira also counts among its advisory board members the Co-op Group chairman Allan Leighton.

In addition to Mr Denison’s personal fine, PwC was hit with a £10m penalty, which was reduced to £6.5m for early settlement.

The FRC’s report on the BHS and Taveta audits sparked one of many legal rows involving Sir Philip following the collapse of the department store chain in 2016.

The political and public attention on BHS’s demise and the role of auditors leading up to it has been one of the catalysts for what is shaping up to be a wholesale reform of the audit profession in the UK.

Under reforms drawn up by the Competition and Markets Authority, most large listed companies will be forced to appoint joint auditors to oversee their accounts.

The big four auditors will also be forced to create greater separation between their audit and consulting operations.

BHS crashed into administration with the loss of about 11,000 jobs just a year after Sir Philip sold it to Dominic Chappell, a three-times bankrupt.

Mr Denison was among the witnesses called to give evidence to an inquiry by MPs into BHS’s collapse.

He told a hearing in May 2016 that there had been valid reasons for signing off BHS’s accounts with a “going concern” opinion shortly before Mr Chappell bought the retailer.

“The existing management team was trying to turn the business around, and had some success in driving costs down and reducing cash requirements; the cash requirements were lower than the losses shown; and there was a deal which would bring extra cash from the vendor and new cash from the purchaser.

“Compared with the plans, there was no material uncertainty.”

Sir Philip agreed in 2017 to pay up to £363m into BHS’s pension scheme to end the threat of action against him by the pensions watchdog, and has faced no further action from the Insolvency Service.

He now faces a huge challenge to rescue the rest of his high street empire as it battles to avoid succumbing to the same pressures as numerous other retailers.

Mr Denison declined to comment on Friday.


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