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Finelist collapses amid misconduct allegations

Automotive distribution giant Finelist has gone into receivership amid allegations of financial irregularities. The action comes eight months after the £500m turnover group agreed a £1bn merger with French distributor Europe Auto Distribution. Finelist chief executive Chris Swan later described the move as an acquisition by EAD.

Alan Bloom, Andrew Woolaston and William Tacon of Ernst & Young have been appointed joint administrative receivers. A spokeswoman for the administrators was unable to comment on the reasons for the receivership. She said Ernst & Young would need to carry out a closer assessment of Finelist before making a statement.

However, a spokesman for Goldman Sachs, the investment bank which advised EAD over the Finelist buyout, said: “The French parent (EAD) applied for receivers to be appointed at Finelist because financial irregularities have been discovered.”

It is widely thought that Finelist's strategy of rapid expansion over the past five years, driven by Mr Swan, was partially to blame for the collapse. Mr Swan frequently claimed that acquisitions were financed by cash, rather than bank borrowings, but his policy led to debts reportedly of several hundred million pounds.

Mr Swan announced plans to step down two months ago to pursue other opportunities. He was due to be replaced by director Peter Joyner.

Alan Bloom, Ernst & Young corporate restructuring partner, is confident of finding a buyer for Finelist, which employs 5,500 people in 600 UK locations.

“We have already received a number of expressions of interest for the business which we are trading as a going concern,” he said. Interested parties are believed to include a UK distributor and several automotive suppliers. International operators are expected to join the bidding. Mr Bloom added: “We are looking at the most effective way of packaging it up for a sale.”

One option is to hive off each division separately. Finelist's 12 key subsidiaries include Edmunds Walker, Autela Components, accessories chain Motorworld and refinish supplier Bancrofts.

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