Business secretary Sajid Javid has ordered a government investigation into the collapse of high street retailer BHS and the conduct of the directors involved.
BHS entered administration in April after running out of cash.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Javid confirmed that he has written to the chief executive of the Insolvency Service, Sarah Albon, instructing her to fast-track its investigation rather than wait for the BHS administrators to report, as is usually the case, before launching their inquiry.
"This investigation will look at the conduct of the directors at the time of insolvency and any individuals who were previously directors. Any issues of misconduct will be taken very seriously," he said in a statement.
The Insolvency Service has the power to refer any evidence it finds of a criminal offence or regulatory misconduct to another prosecuting body although it cannot prosecute itself.
News of the investigation comes after two House of Commons select committees – Business, Innovation and Skills and the Work and Pensions – last week confirmed they have called BHS's former owner Sir Philip Green to give evidence over the department store's demise and £571m pension deficit.
The retail tycoon has come under increasing pressure over his role in BHS' collapse, with one MP branding him as the “unacceptable face of capitalism", after buying the retailer for £200m in 2000 only to pay out hundreds of millions of pounds of dividends to his family in the following years.
The Work and Pensions committee confirmed today that Green has been in touch "to indicate his willingness to come to parliament" and that they are working with him to arrange a date. It has suggested 15 June at 9.30 a.m.
Dominic Chappell, a former racing driver who led the consortium Retail Acquisitions that bought the retailer from Green last year, will be questioned ahead of Green, the committee said.
The Pension Regulator has also launched its own investigation, which will determine whether the Pension Protection Fund, the rescue agency that will assume responsibility for BHS' retirees, can claw back any money for its members from the administration or from former directors – potentially by taking them to court.
Stores are continuing to trade as usual, although more than 10,000 jobs are at risk if the administrators do not secure a buyer a buyer for the retailer.
Administrators Duff & Phelps today said property firm Savills has been appointed to advise on the retailer’s property portfolio in relation to the sale of the business as a going concern.