UK's Osborne pressed for more detail over failed Lloyds branch sale

LONDON Thu Apr 10, 2014 12:23pm EDT

File photograph shows pedestrians walking past a branch of Lloyds Bank in the City London February 3, 2014. REUTERS/Neil Hall/Files

File photograph shows pedestrians walking past a branch of Lloyds Bank in the City London February 3, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Neil Hall/Files

LONDON (Reuters) - British finance minister George Osborne was on Thursday pressed for more details about the government's involvement in a collapsed deal to sell hundreds of Lloyds Banking Group (LLOY.L) branches to the Co-operative Bank

(42TE.L).

Lawmakers conducting an inquiry into the planned sale, which fell through in April last year, are trying to establish whether undue political pressure was applied to Lloyds or regulators to sell 631 high-street branches to the Co-op.

The abandonment of the deal presaged the near collapse of the Co-op under massive debt.

Andrew Tyrie, the head of the committee looking into the sale, wrote to Osborne for the second time in two weeks asking for details of the role ministers played in the deal. He said Osborne's first response, which acknowledged contact between ministers and those involved in the deal, had been insufficient.

"Your letter of April 3 provided some general information on these contacts, but lacked the details requested on timing of contacts, the individuals involved and the content of discussion," Tyrie said in a letter dated April 9 that was released on Thursday.

Osborne said last week that the British finance ministry did not interfere in the process of the deal.

Paul Flowers, the former chairman of Co-op Bank, said in March that Osborne had pressured it to buy the branches from partially state-owned Lloyds. Peter Levene, chair of rival bidder NBNK, has repeatedly alleged that political interference resulted in Co-op Bank being named as the preferred bidder.

(Reporting by William James)