Friday 24 October 2014

Bank of Ireland sues clients of Custom House over loans

Up to 60 CHC investors face action by bank

Published 17/08/2014 | 02:30

INVESTORS HAVE BEEN WIPED OUT: From left, Custom House Capital director John Mulholland, CEO Harry Cassidy and investment director John Whyte

Bank of Ireland UK has begun legal proceedings against investors who lost hundreds of thousands in the Custom House Capital scandal.

Around 50 to 60 investors are being pursued, with 10 proceedings filed in the High Court as of Friday.

The pursuit of these investors through the courts came as a shock to the investors, one person said, who four years on can see no end in sight to the fallout from the collapse of Custom House Capital.

Many of those who invested in Custom House Capital did so with borrowed money. Those whose creditors pursued them have been effectively hit twice - their investment has been wiped out and they may also be liable to pay back the original loan.

The average amount Bank of Ireland UK is chasing in this case is thought to be around €250,000 - meaning the bank is probably seeking a figure that runs into the double-digit millions.

The loans in this case were arranged with Bank of Ireland UK by Custom House Capital on behalf of its clients, in order that they be invested in CHC projects including property assets.

Bank of Ireland UK never personally met some or all of the investors, the source said, despite lending them thousands. Bank of Ireland UK declined to comment on the matter.

Custom House Capital was directed by former Bank of Ireland employee Harry Cassidy and barrister John Mulholland. It was one of Ireland's most exclusive investment houses at the height of the boom, at one point managing more than €1bn of investors' money.

It invested clients' money heavily in property in the 2000s, including assets in France, Germany and Switzerland. But when the property bubble burst, it began using clients' money to shore up shortfalls.

The High Court ordered that it be wound up in 2011 after inspectors found evidence of "systemic and deliberate misuse" of €66m of clients' funds to cover losses in European property investments.

Some investors are entitled to compensation from a financial services compensation fund called the Investor Compensation Company Limited, but this is capped at a maximum of €20,000 per person. Many of Custom House Capital's customers invested a lot more than €20,000 in the firm. And not all investors are eligible for the compensation fund.

The ICCL's most recent annual accounts show that claims are still being processed four years later, with just a fraction of the money set aside paid out. The most recent figures show that a little more than one in five claims has been successful to date.

This is not the first time Bank of Ireland's involvement with Custom House Capital has come back to haunt the lender. A row broke out between a shareholder and bank chief executive Richie Boucher at last year's AGM over the terms of the sale of a Bank of Ireland subsidiary, Bank of Ireland Trust Services, to a company controlled by Custom House Capital boss Harry Cassidy called ARF Management.

Mr Cassidy was a former Bank of Ireland employee and is currently the subject of an ongoing inquiry following the demise of Custom House Capital.

Mr Boucher strongly rejected any allegation there was anything untoward about this transaction.

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