Wednesday 28 September 2016

I'm sorry for my Nazi death camp remark - Ronan

Reference made in anger at Nama, says developer

Niamh Horan and Ronald Quinlan

Published 27/09/2015 | 02:30

Johnny Ronan
Johnny Ronan

Property developer Johnny Ronan has publicly apologised for any offence caused by his use of a phrase, widely associated with Nazi concentration camps.

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The businessman sparked outrage when he signed off his banking inquiry witness statement with 'Arbeit macht frei', which translates as 'work will set you free'.

The offending quote originally appeared in the Sunday Independent last weekend. However it wasn't until the full text was made public by the banking inquiry last Thursday that Mr Ronan's comments caused outcry.

Since then, former minister Alan Shatter has led numerous calls for Mr Ronan to apologise and to explain his decision to include the words in his statement. Having maintained his silence for several days, this weekend, Mr Ronan provided a comprehensive statement to the Sunday Independent on the matter.

In it he said: "I apologise for any offence which has been caused by quoting the phrase 'Arbeit macht frei' (work will set you free) at the end of my submission to the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry. It was genuinely unintended. The reason for the quote I believed (perhaps mistakenly) was evident from the context of my submission - Nama promised its borrowers that they would be treated fairly if they co-operated, but that unfortunately was not the case; co-operating businesses, including Battersea Power Station, Treasury Holdings and our China business (Forterra Trust) were destroyed, with all the consequences of that for Irish jobs and the taxpayer.

"The significance of this and continuing anger I feel over what occurred is not however comparable with the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime. I recognise that I used an inappropriate analogy in my submission and have written to the Banking Inquiry to request the offending phrase be removed."

The furore surrounding Mr Ronan's use of the phrase came to dominate media coverage and very quickly overshadowed the arguments he had made in a comprehensive and forceful submission to the Banking Inquiry.

Arising from his submission, Mr Ronan has asked for a full investigation into the allegations set out in his sworn witness statement to the Banking Inquiry.

These include the claim that in 2011, Malaysian state fund SP Setia had agreed to buy Treasury's debt for its full value and fund 100pc of the development costs of Battersea Power Station. This would have kept Treasury afloat and meant the taxpayer received back the full amount lent to his company, according to Mr Ronan. However, when the funders asked to meet Nama, the state agency allegedly refused unless they paid a non-refundable payment of stg£10m upfront. In his Banking Inquiry statement, Mr Ronan claimed that he complained to Nama that no company would pay £10m simply to meet someone face to face. The talks never went ahead and, shortly afterwards, Lloyds and Nama enforced the debt against Battersea Power Station, ultimately leading to the downfall of Treasury Holdings. As Mr Ronan explained in his witness statement: "A huge share in the profits and over £400m in management fees should have benefited Treasury Holdings and (billions in profits for) the Irish taxpayer, yet due to Nama's serious error of judgement and short-sightedness in refusing to support Battersea, this benefit has been lost."

He said: "The decision to enforce by Nama was one of the costliest decisions in the history of the Irish State."

In his statement to the Banking Inquiry he also rubbished Nama's assertion that Treasury Holdings requested £4bn in development finance from Nama in order to develop Battersea. He claimed that Nama leaked this false information to the press. Elsewhere, Mr Ronan also raised concerns over a Nama employee who was offered a post in a rival company, though that was blocked by Nama. In another allegation, Mr Ronan claimed that Nama pressurised one of Mr Ronan's longest-serving legal advisers to drop Treasury as a client.

Separately, Mr Ronan's legal counsel, former Arthur Cox partner Rory Williams, wrote to Finance Minister Michael Noonan on September 6, 2012, alleging that Nama had destroyed Treasury Holdings "in an act of monumental folly and vindictiveness". The letter also claims that the state agency asked Treasury to execute term sheets which were in breach of company law.

In a judgement in March 2012, Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan found in favour of Treasury Holdings in respect of every one of the points of which Treasury Holdings complained. She found that Nama was under duty to give Treasury Holdings an opportunity to be heard; Treasury was not given the opportunity to be heard prior to Nama taking the decision to enforce; Nama was under a duty to act fairly and reasonably and it was in breach of that obligation by reason of its failure to hear Treasury, its failure to consider a relevant matter and its unfair procedure in the timing of the credit committee meeting.

Sunday Independent

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