Business Irish

Monday 24 July 2017

Comers sell up German empire to fund buying spree at Nama

Tom Lyons and Nick Webb

Carroll assets eyed as brothers build up war chest

THE Comer brothers, the Galway developers who made a fortune in Britain, are selling part of their German property portfolio worth hundreds of millions in an audacious plan to capture a big chunk of the Irish apartment market.

The brothers left Ireland in the mid-Eighties and were repeatedly linked with a bid for football club Aston Villa in 2005, a move which the brothers later denied.

Monaco-based Luke Comer confirmed that the Comer Group, which he co-owns with his younger brother Brian, were looking at buying up portfolios of "several hundred" apartments in Dublin from Nama.

"We are looking at Ireland now because we've been out a long time -- 27 years -- and we'd be very interested if the price was right."

Mr Comer declined to comment on individual deals but he has, according to market sources, looked at acquiring part of apartment kingpin Liam Carroll's portfolio of several thousand apartments in the Dublin area.

"What we're looking at would be in the hundreds, I'd say. It all depends on the type that is available," Mr Comer said.

The Comer Group, he said, had cashed out most of its British investments in 2006 and reinvested the proceeds in Germany. It currently owns 28 retail centres in Germany, four hotels and a massive office block in Berlin called Die Pyramide.

"How much we invest in Ireland all depends on how much we offload in Germany," Mr Comer said, "The sales process is going pretty well."

"The German property market is high at the most so that's a reason to sell," he said.

"There is still a lot of downside in Ireland and maybe we wouldn't be interested if we weren't from here originally," he added, "but it will all depend on how much success we have in Germany before we can really assess Ireland."

Mr Comer confirmed he had met with Nama, which he described as "doing its best in very difficult circumstances".

Property market insiders linked the Comer brothers with being interested in several thousand apartments if Nama is prepared to sell them at a bulk discount.

Meanwhile it has emerged that banks are seeking control of a boom-time joint venture between busted developer Liam Carroll and semi-state Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), which has imploded over the repayment of a €34m loan from National Irish Bank.

The move will be extremely embarrassing for the DAA which borrowed millions with Mr Carroll to develop the Horizon business park near the airport. But when prices crashed and Mr Carroll's empire collapsed in 2009, the scheme got into difficulty.

Loans fell due last July and weren't paid off with an extension set to expire in nine days' time. Property sources have told the Sunday Independent that frantic talks between the semi-State, lenders and Mr Carroll's former business led to a deal framework being agreed last week.

It is understood that the DAA will exit the deal and transfer its shareholding to Mr Carroll's former company, Dunloe. The move will come as a major reputational blow for the semi-state, echoing the disastrous property dealings that sank fellow quango, Dublin Docklands Development Authority.

"The company is a joint venture between DAA and Dunloe. Its borrowings are non-recourse to DAA. DAA understands that Turckton is currently in talks in relation to refinancing its borrowings, and these talks are expected to be concluded shortly. Turckton has been a profitable investment for DAA, and DAA expects this to continue to be the case," said the DAA.

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