Business

Tesco faces further legal action from UK shareholders

Tesco sign Image copyright PA
Image caption Tesco Shareholder Claims said it believed that had the accounting irregularities not taken place both the share price would be "materially higher".

Tesco is facing potential legal action from UK institutional shareholders following its accounting scandal.

US law firm Scott and Scott is claiming Tesco's overstatement of its profits last year caused a "permanent destruction of value to shareholders".

Scott and Scott said it was in "active discussions" with institutions in the UK and Europe about filing a claim, but that none had yet signed up.

Tesco declined to comment on the possible action.

The firm has already filed a class action lawsuit against the supermarket chain in the US, accusing it of misleading investors.

"International institutions asked us to find a way to bring a claim in the UK which they can join," said David Scott, managing partner at Scott and Scott.

Scott and Scott is funding a UK law firm to represent the group, known as Tesco Shareholder Claims Limited, to try to muster enough support for a potential claim.

In September, the supermarket chain stunned investors when it said that it had mis-stated its half-year profit guidance by £250m - a figure that was subsequently revised to £263m.


Analysis by Emma Simpson, BBC business correspondent:

Should shareholders be entitled to compensation? The American law firm, Scott and Scott, thinks so and has already begun legal action in the US. That claim centres on investors who bought Tesco's US depositary shares.

Scott and Scott claims some British and European institutional investors asked it to find a way of bringing a similar case in the UK. A team of UK solicitors has been hired to purse a potential case. Another city law firm, Stewart's Law, is already preparing a similar claim.

For either of the claims to succeed, they'll need to muster enough support from some of Tesco's biggest investors, which may be no easy thing.

Although shareholders took a hit, there are signs that a recovery at Tesco is underway. Any protracted legal action here in the UK would prove a costly distraction for the company that shareholders ultimately own.


'Materially higher'

Following the announcement, Tesco's shares fell to a 14-year low of 164.8p, but have since recovered to trade at around 246p.

Tesco Shareholder Claims said it believed that, had the accounting irregularities not taken place, both the share price and the value of the company would be "materially higher".

The move follows a similar claim from UK law firm Stewarts Law, which said last year it was seeking Tesco shareholders to participate in a lawsuit to establish whether they were entitled to compensation.

Separately, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is currently carrying out a criminal investigation into the accounting irregularities at Tesco.

Several senior executives left in the wake of the scandal and new chief executive Dave Lewis, who joined Tesco from Unilever in September, has pledged to slash costs and sell assets to fund lower prices and mend Tesco's finances.

On Monday, Patrick Cescau, who was the director closely involved in the replacement of the supermarket's chief executive and chairman, became the latest senior executive to leave.

Tesco said he would retire from the board on 7 April 2015 following six years as a non-executive director.

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