Storm as Scots tycoon accused of asset-stripping

ONE of Scotland's richest business tycoons was accused yesterday of asset-stripping after it was revealed that one of his companies is behind plans for a £50 million urban village development in the heart of Aberdeen.

Ian Suttie, who was cleared last year of cheating the Inland Revenue out of thousands of pounds in unpaid tax, is planning to turn the site of the former Richards textile plant, which he bought about three years ago for 5 million, into a "Covent Garden" style development of 400 flats, loft apartments and penthouses, as well as commercial premises.

He took over the factory in 2002 after the Broadford plant, once one of the city's leading employers, went bust, leaving hundreds of workers without a pension. As part of the deal, the sprawling 8.5-acre site was sold to a company called Hawkrow, of which Mr Suttie was the sole director, for 5 million.

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Mr Suttie moved the company's operations to a new site in the Northfield area of the city. However, the textile firm that he created went into receivership in November 2004, leaving the 196 remaining workers without a job.

First Construction, the successor company to Hawkrow, yesterday announced ambitious plans for a 50 million landmark development at the city centre site, sparking a storm of protest.

Graham Tran, of the trade union Amicus, said: "I am not suggesting for one minute that he has done anything illegal, but what he has done is morally wrong. People call it asset-stripping.

"There will be a lot of anger in the streets of Aberdeen today with this announcement that Ian Suttie is about to make millions on the back of the misery of the ex-employees of Richards of Aberdeen."

Brian Adam, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen North, also condemned the development.

"I think those who have struggled to get their pension rights are going to be rather angry if Mr Suttie ends up making a fortune out of the speculative purchase of the original factory site, while their pensions have all but disappeared," he said.

Mr Suttie, who is reputed to have a personal fortune of 75 million, could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

But a spokesman for the tycoon rejected the suggestion that Mr Suttie had taken advantage of the ailing city textile business to secure the site.

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The spokesman said: "Richards plc went into receivership in 2002. At that point the receiver, KPMG, declared the massive funding hole in the Richards pension fund and the collapse of the fund.

"From that point, no possibility existed to save the pension fund - the only hope was that someone would continue to trade the business and save the industry and manufacturing jobs for Aberdeen."