Feeling the heat: Sanjeev Gupta is being pursued by HMRC for some £26million in unpaid taxes
More than 2,000 steel jobs are hanging in the balance as the taxman chases scandal-hit metals magnate Sanjeev Gupta.
HM Revenue & Customs is pushing for four of the tycoon’s companies to be wound up as it seeks to recover more than £26million in unpaid taxes. The documents filed in the High Court this week could push Gupta’s Liberty Steel into insolvency.
The Government is understood to be watching the situation closely. Unions said HMRC’s actions have dealt a ‘devastating blow’ to steel workers and begged it to resume talks with Gupta. Liberty is the UK’s third-largest steelmaker with some 3,000 workers in total.
The four firms targeted by HMRC employ around 2,300 people in Hartlepool, Rotherham, Stocksbridge in South Yorkshire, Scunthorpe and West Bromwich.
The winding up petitions are another blow to Gupta’s already shattered reputation.
Gupta was hailed as the ‘saviour of UK steel’ after he snapped up a plant in Newport in 2013 and later went on a spending spree that saw him take over factories in Rotherham, Scunthorpe and Stocksbridge, among others.
But his group of companies – the GFG Alliance, which includes Liberty Steel – was plunged into crisis after its main lender Greensill Capital went bust last March.
GFG is under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office over ‘suspected fraud, fraudulent trading and money laundering’ after Greensill’s collapse exposed the opaque and interconnected nature of his empire’s finances.
As well as running steel plants in the UK, the GFG umbrella of firms includes metalworks overseas, manufacturing facilities and power projects.
Plea: Unions said HMRC’s actions have dealt a ‘devastating blow’ to steel workers and begged it to resume talks with Gupta
Gupta has been racing to secure new funding and last October agreed a vital restructuring package that included injecting £50million into his UK plants.
HMRC’s winding up petitions target Speciality Steel UK, Liberty Pipes (Hartlepool), Liberty Performance Steels and Liberty Merchant Bar, which collectively owe £26.4million.
If the Liberty groups targeted go into liquidation, the Government will need to decide whether to appoint the official receiver to buy time while it attempts to find another buyer.
This happened in 2019 when British Steel went bust and was eventually bought by Chinese group Jingye.
Steel unions Community, Union and GMB called on GFG and the Government to ‘get back round the table and hammer out a deal that provides space for the company to refinance’.
A Liberty spokesman said: ‘Our priority has been to protect thousands of jobs in the UK.’