Patisserie Valerie: court dismisses winding-up case over £1m tax bill

The owner of Patisserie Valerie has fought off a winding-up petition against its principal trading subsidiary as the cake shop and cafe group continues to battle for survival.

Separately, Patisserie Holdings, which has more than 200 cafes and nearly 3,000 staff, said it was investigating the cashing in of share bonuses this year by both its chief executive and its finance director.

The company’s statement did not suggest any share options had been wrongly allocated or exercised, only that it was “seeking to understand” why the grant of options relating to 2015 and 2016 had not been “appropriately disclosed and accounted for”.

The Aim-listed firm called in forensic accountants from PricewaterhouseCoopers to trawl through its accounts after saying that “fraudulent activity” was uncovered that left the business close to collapse.

Chris Marsh, the group’s finance director, who joined the company in 2006, was arrested earlier this month and has been bailed. Hertfordshire police, who declined to name the individual, said a 44-year-old man from St Albans, where Marsh lives, had been arrested on suspicion of fraud by false representation.

The Serious Fraud Office has confirmed it has opened a criminal investigation into an individual but has not given further information.

The group’s multi-millionaire chairman, Luke Johnson, was forced to use £20m of his own money to keep Patisserie Holdings in business after finding it was nearly £10m in debt instead of having £28m in the bank, as it had last reported.

Directors said they had been unaware that Patisserie Holdings’ main trading subsidiary, Stonebeach Ltd, faced a winding-up petition from HMRC over a £1m unpaid tax bill. The petition was filed on 14 September but the directors said they were unaware of its existence until earlier this month.

The case was due to be heard on 31 October, but on Wednesday morning, Patisserie Holdings told the stock market that the winding-up petition had been dismissed in the high court.

In a separate statement, the company said Marsh had been granted 666,666 bonus shares in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The chief executive, Paul May, was granted 1m shares in each of those years. Shares granted in the first two years had been exercised and sold.

The company’s latest annual report gives the correct information relating to share options granted in 2014, but says that only 320,000 share options were granted to executives in both 2015 and 2016.

Over the period, Marsh made a profit of nearly £2m from the share sales, while May made more than £2.6m.

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