Probe tangles sport retail web further

ALLEGATIONS of anti-competitive behaviour at JJB Sports and Sports Direct are the latest to ripple a very murky pool.<br /><br />In 2003, JJB &ndash; then led by founder Dave Whelan &ndash; had to cough up &pound;6.7m in fines after Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley, the owner of Newcastle United, alerted the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to football shirt price-fixing activities in the sector.<br /><br />Whelan later sold his JJB stake to Chris Ronnie, though the latter&rsquo;s leadership soured after he was blamed for taking the company to the brink of bankruptcy.<br /><br />Ronnie was ousted from the firm earlier this year by executive chairman Sir David Jones, after his stake was seized by the administrators to his backer Kaupthing Singer and Friedlander. However, he now insists he was a scapegoat and the bad feeling between him and Jones has intensified.<br /><br />The plot thickened yet further after it emerged Jones accepted a &pound;1.5m personal loan from Mike Ashley in the autumn of 2007, with the pair arguing over when exactly the loan was agreed and whether it should be viewed as a conflict of interest.<br /><br />And last month, as part of a campaign to clear his reputation, Ronnie leaked past emails in which Jones praised his strategy and criticised five other members of the JJB board, causing a further stir.<br /><br />Sports Direct is also currently embroiled in a separate investigation regarding its acquisition of retail stores from JJB. The OFT, which is concerned about competition levels, referred its probe to the Competition Commission last month.