Friday 30 September 2016

Finance 'prepared' to accept €100m loss to avoid O'Brien bid

Published 02/08/2015 | 02:30

While Mr O'Brien was not identified by former IBRC chief executive Mike Aynsley in his evidence to the Banking Inquiry last Thursday, it is understood the billionaire businessman's original bid to buy the petrol retail giant Topaz Energy is the deal which is alleged to have been met with resistance by the Department of Finance
While Mr O'Brien was not identified by former IBRC chief executive Mike Aynsley in his evidence to the Banking Inquiry last Thursday, it is understood the billionaire businessman's original bid to buy the petrol retail giant Topaz Energy is the deal which is alleged to have been met with resistance by the Department of Finance

Denis O'Brien is the individual whose bid to buy a major IBRC asset was objected to by a Department of Finance official with a claim that an offer of €100m less from another buyer would be preferable, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

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While Mr O'Brien was not identified by former IBRC chief executive Mike Aynsley in his evidence to the Banking Inquiry last Thursday, it is understood the billionaire businessman's original bid to buy the petrol retail giant Topaz Energy is the deal which is alleged to have been met with resistance by the Department of Finance.

Contacted yesterday, Mr Aynsley refused to comment on the matter, saying simply: "It is important that the Commission of Investigation into the IBRC be allowed to do its work."

Efforts to contact Denis O'Brien's spokesman for comment were unsuccessful.

In his opening statement and in the course of his testimony to the Banking Inquiry, the former IBRC chief executive said he had been "shocked" to receive an email report from one of his officials in January 2013 detailing their discussions with a Department of Finance official about one of the bank's major assets.

In a conversation about the asset, the departmental official is alleged to have indicated to the IBRC executive that finance minister Michael Noonan had a particular preference in relation to the transaction.

Referring to the email's content, Mr Aynsley said: "The bank executive then moved the conversation to the possible sale of another major business asset and asked the Department of Finance official whether he would be in agreement with a certain price in the sale process from the same Irish business person or his company, or alternatively a €100m less from another party. The response from the Department of Finance official was that the lower price would be preferable and that he believed the Minister for Finance would be supportive of that position."

Mr Aynsley informed the Inquiry that the email supporting his testimony "should be sitting in my inbox in the IBRC" and as such "would be in the possession of the special liquidator".

Describing the allegation as "extraordinary", Fianna Fail finance spokesman Michael McGrath asked that the Banking Inquiry forward the details to the recently-established Commission of Investigation into the IBRC.

A spokesman for the Department of Finance declined to comment on the matter.

Notwithstanding the Department's alleged opposition to Mr O'Brien's bid for Topaz, the businessman went on to acquire it from the IBRC in a formal loan auction conducted by the bank's special liquidators in December 2013.

In doing so, Mr O'Brien fought off competing bids for the petrol retailer from Topaz founder Neil O'Leary's finance company Ion Equity and a consortium that included Mark McGoldrick's Mount Kellett and Goldman Sachs.

The Banking Inquiry finds itself at the centre of another controversy, meanwhile, with property developer Michael O'Flynn considering legal action after his sworn evidence was publicly called into question by Nama.

The Sunday Independent can reveal that Mr O'Flynn wrote to the inquiry's chairman Ciaran Lynch last Monday with a request to go back before the inquiry to "confirm the truthfulness" of his evidence after elements of it were disputed by Nama.

In his letter, a copy of which has been seen by this newspaper, the Cork-based developer said Nama had "effectively" accused him of committing "perjury before the inquiry" by issuing a statement to the media contradicting his claims.

Mr O'Flynn wrote: "In a statement to at least two Sunday newspapers, Nama alleged that my evidence is untrue and effectively have accused me of perjury before the inquiry in relation to certain aspects of my evidence. I can assure the committee that contrary to Nama's allegations in the media, my evidence is truthful."

Mr O'Flynn's request for the Banking Inquiry to address Nama's contradiction of his sworn evidence has so far been rejected. in a letter to the developer last Wednesday, Mr Lynch said the inquiry would not entertain a request from any witness to be recalled to give further evidence unless there were "wholly exceptional circumstances".

Mr O'Flynn has written back to Mr Lynch advising him that he considers Nama's attempts to publicly allege perjury on his part to be an example of such circumstances.

Sunday Independent

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