Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe has been sentenced to two years in an Egyptian jail after being dragged into a bizarre embezzlement case.

Mike Coupe

  • Mike Coupe convicted to two years in Egyptian jail for embezzlement
  • Conviction relates to alleged seizing of “dishonoured” cheques by Coupe in July 2014
  • Sainsbury’s says Coupe had “no involvement” and “strongly refute all allegations”

Coupe was convicted for embezzlement by a court in Giza after he allegedly tried to seize cheques connected to the collapse of Sainsbury’s disastrous foray into Egypt 16 years ago.

As Sainsbury’s most senior employee, Coupe was held responsible for the grocer’s alleged actions and was automatically convicted in September after failing to attend court hearings in the country, according to The Times.

“This relates to a historic commercial dispute in which Mike Coupe had no involvement and we strongly refute all the allegations.”

Sainsbury’s statement

But Sainsbury’s has claimed Coupe was convicted “without notice of the proceedings against him” and said its chief executive “had no involvement” in what it called a “historic commercial dispute.”

Coupe was forced to fly out to Egypt on Sunday to attend an appeal hearing alongside Sainsbury’s executives and security staff. Failure to do so would have been seen as “confirmation of his conviction”, Sainsbury’s said.

But the hearing was then adjourned until Sunday May 3. It is not yet known whether Coupe will attend the rescheduled hearing.

Egyptian venture

The case stems from Sainsbury’s move into Egypt in 1999 when it paid £10m for a 25% stake in the joint venture with local partner Amr El Nasharty. It added a further £40m six months later to raise its stake to 80%.

Sainsbury’s later withdrew from Egypt in 2001, when the business had about 100 stores and was losing £35m on sales of £80m.

According to Sainsbury’s, Mr El Nasharty bought the joint venture from the UK retailer in 2001 but paid the grocer with cheques that bounced.

Coupe is alleged to have seized the cheques in July 2014, which the grocer said was “an impossibility.”

Sainsbury’s said in a statement: “This relates to a historic commercial dispute in which Mike Coupe had no involvement and we strongly refute all the allegations.

“Mike Coupe was not employed by Sainsbury’s at the time of the original business deal in 2001 and has never met the complainant.

“When Mr El Nasharty bought our interest in the Egyptian joint venture we had with him in 2001, he paid us with cheques that were dishonoured. Mr El Nasharty is now claiming that Mike was in Egypt on July 15 2014 and seized these cheques, which is an impossibility.

“Mike Coupe was in London carrying out his normal duties that day. In September 2014 Mike Coupe was convicted, without notice of the proceedings against him and in his absence, in an Egyptian court. We have taken all necessary steps to appeal against these groundless claims and will continue to do so.

“This process is being handled by our legal team and we do not anticipate it having any material, operational or financial impact on the company.”