Whelan faces FSA probe over sell-off

Wigan chairman David Whelan could face a probe by the Financial Services Authority after he sold his 29% stake in JJB Sports on Friday.

Wigan chairman David Whelan could face a probe by the Financial Services Authority after he sold his 29% stake in JJB Sports on Friday.

The Sunday Telegraph claimed yesterday that an investigation would look into whether Whelan, the founder of the sports retail chain, misled the market over the sale of the shares after he announced to the Stock Exchange in January that he would not sell any shares for "at least 12 months". The announcement came after he sold an 8.6% stake in the company for personal reasons.

Whelan, who set up JJB Sports in 1971, sold his remaining stake for £190m last week to a joint venture formed by Icelandic financial group Exista and Chris Ronnie, who has previously worked at Umbro and Sports World owner Sports Direct. Whelan also stepped down as an executive director of the group.

The FSA declined to comment on the JJB case specifically, but a spokeswoman said: "We do monitor directives as a matter of course."

JJB defended Whelan's actions to the Sunday Telegraph, saying that the statement in January was intended to reassure he would not sell his stake piecemeal in the market.

The newspaper added that he had not intended to sell his shares but was approached by Ronnie after JJB shares tumbled 11% following a disappointing trading update. Whelan holds a controlling interest in Whelco Holdings which operates the JJB Stadium, as well as Wigan Athletic Football Club and the Wigan Warriors rugby league club.

JJB, which has more than 400 stores, said Whelan's decision to sell his stake marked the end of an era for the firm, which appointed him as honorary life president in recognition of his contribution to the company.

Ronnie has been appointed as deputy chief executive of JJB, with responsibility for sourcing and product development. He will work alongside current chief executive Tom Knight.

Separately, The Observer reported yesterday that Ronnie has confirmed in writing to executives at JJB that his purchase of Whelan's stake is not connected to Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley.

Both Ronnie and Exista have been linked to the sports retail tycoon in the past. Exista has cross-shareholdings with Kaupthing, which advised Ashley on his recent takeover offer for Newcastle, while Ronnie has worked for the Sports World owner.

Sports Direct have seen their shares tumble since they floated on the stock market in February and their chairman David Richardson resigned last month citing difficulties in establishing working relationships with the executive team.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer