You can read the article here, but then come back as we've dug into the details - here are the facts as we understand them..
In early 2006, Andrew Hosking and Tony Flynn, both of Grant Thornton, were appointed as administrators of Ovenden Colbert Printers Limited ("OCP"). Among the assets of OCP was £165k in a bank account which OCP's directors claimed was held in trust (for complicated reasons that aren't relevant here). The liquidators disputed this claim, but following extensive legal argument on both sides, agreed that the directors were entitled to £89k of the funds held in the trust account.
The liquidators then sought a resolution from the creditors' committee authorising the release of these funds. One of the three members of the committee, former director Stan Ovenden, objected to the payment. The company directors then drew up an agreement with Mr Ovenden stating that they would pay him £37k from the trust monies they received if he voted through the release of the funds. This was apparently a commercial decision taken to avoid the incursion of further significant legal fees battling over the entitlement to the trust monies.
Grant Thornton were drawn into this issue because instead of transferring £89k to the directors, the firm (on the instructions of the directors) released the trust monies in two transfers : £37k to Mr Ovenden, and the balance to the directors.
The Sunday Times:
"The agreement, seen by The Sunday Times, also placed other possibly illegal demands on Ovenden as a member of the creditors’ committee. It required him to stop asking further questions about a range of matters including directors’ loans, claims of trading while insolvent and a £1.3m payout from an earlier liquidation.
"The cash-for-vote agreement also required that Ovenden sack his lawyers and Griffins and that he stop suggesting there was any conflict of interest in Grant Thornton’s role."
We haven't seen the agreement, so we can't add anything here. But from the above it seems that Griffins were advising Mr Ovenden at the time of his agreement to receive the alleged bribe. Fast forward three years and Griffins have been installed as liquidator by the High Court and have instigated an investigation into that same payment.
So is this corruption? As any litigator will confirm, there's a fine line between a commercial settlement and bribery. Is it acceptable for a member of the creditors' committee to receive funds as a result of a decision he makes?
UPDATE: We have received the following statement from Grant Thornton:
We are aware of the article that appeared in the Sunday Times (online) on 20 December 2009.
Andrew Hosking was appointed, together with Anthony Flynn, of Grant Thornton UK LLP ("GTUK"), as administrator of Ovenden Colbert Printers Limited ("OCP") on 6 April 2006. Mr. Hosking was subsequently appointed liquidator on 14 March 2007. After a final meeting of creditors on 9 January 2009, Mr. Hosking applied for and obtained his release as liquidator from the Secretary of State on 1 September 2009. Mr. Hosking was not made aware of, and was not a party to, Mr. Ovenden's application to court of March 2009 when Mr. Hunt was appointed as liquidator of OCP.
The Department for Business, Enterprise or Regulatory Reform ("BERR") has not informed us of any allegations or investigations into the administration or liquidation of OCP.
We are aware that Mr Hunt made a complaint to Mr Hosking's licensing body, the Insolvency Practitioner's Association, in July 2009. The IPA are currently investigating that complaint. Mr Hosking and GTUK have, following a full consideration and internal investigation of the complaint, responded comprehensively to the complaint. GTUK and Mr Hosking entirely reject the complaints and allegations made. They are entirely without foundation.