Irish

Saturday 12 July 2014

Nationwide's 'soft' loan to Hogan

Fingleton approved €900,000 interest-only loans for minister's D4 pad and Portuguese penthouse

Tom Lyons and Daniel McConnell

Published 08/07/2012|05:00

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LET'S PLAY HOUSE: Minister Phil Hogan (left) had an interest-only mortgage on the Haddington Square house he sold to Deputy Paul Kehoe (right), and Hogan's loans came through Irish Nationwide boss Michael Fingleton (centre)

Phil Hogan, the minister responsible for collecting the household charge, availed of "soft" loans of close to €900,000 that were approved by toxic building society boss Michael Fingleton who has cost the State €5.4bn.

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Hogan's unorthodox loans were personally approved by Fingleton to allow him buy a pied-a-terre house in Dublin 4 and a luxurious penthouse in Portugal using two interest- only loans of at least a decade each, an aggressive equity release, and what appears to have been, for his final loan, minimal paperwork.

Hogan joins a host of politicians -- from Charlie McCreevy, the ex-Finance Minister who helped create Ireland's property bubble, to Francie O'Brien, the ex-senator who was also a business partner of Fingleton -- who availed of the building society boss's loans.

Even more luckily for Hogan, fellow Fine Gael TD and junior minister Paul Kehoe popped up to buy his D4 property on Haddington Square in June 2010 after its value fell sharply relative to Hogan's total borrowings from the society (which at their peak were more than €1.2m). Hogan had been trying to sell it from June 2008.

Hogan declined to respond to detailed questions on his Irish Nationwide borrowings.

"I am not going to get involved in discussing my personal business -- no more would I ask you the same questions," he said.

Kehoe forgot to declare his rental income from Hogan's old property in his Dail register of interests until April 14 of this year when it was uncovered by another newspaper.

Kehoe told the Sunday Independent: "I was not aware of that [ Phil Hogan's financial arrangements]. I got a loan to buy the house with my wife. It was fully valued by auctioneers and it was all perfectly normal. There was absolutely nothing untoward about any of this."

Hogan's initial dealings with the society would be familiar to any mortgage holder, but -- to borrow a phrase from former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern -- as the "boom got boomier", so too did Hogan's borrowings.

His first loan from the society was a standard loan to buy his home in Kilkenny, and both capital and interest were repaid monthly on this €330,000 mortgage.

His next foray into the property market was to borrow about €450,000 to buy a property in Haddington Square in Dublin 4. Unusually included in the terms of this loan was that it should be interest-only for over a decade.

Hogan then leveraged up to buy a luxury apartment in Portugal after the society decided to give him an equity release -- as it believed that the combined value of his Kilkenny home and D4 property was €1.2m, far more than they are worth today.

It used this Irish property bubble valuation to lend him another €430,000 to buy his Portuguese holiday home. This loan was also interest-only for a decade.

Hogan described himself as being a "part-owner" of the property in luxury Villamoura on the Algarve in his 2007 register of interests.

The Sunday Independent understands that staff at the Nationwide could not find the usual loan-to-earnings assessments that would be demanded by more prudent lenders when advancing individuals more than €1m.

It is possible such documents may have been given to the society by Hogan, who has been an auctioneer as well as a politician, only to be later lost. Hogan did not respond to questions about his income relative to his borrowings.

In February 2009 Hogan admitted he was feeling the pinch of the bust when he declined to follow his close friend Taoiseach Enda Kenny's example in taking a 5 per cent cut on his then €110,000 salary. "My personal circumstances don't allow that at the moment," Hogan said.

In June 2008 Hogan first put the Haddington Square property on the market -- initially asking €625,000 though this was later reduced to €579,000. It then appeared on the books of Hamilton Osbourne King for €549,000.

Finally, two years after he put it on the market, Fine Gael politician Paul Kehoe and his wife Brigid bought the house for an undisclosed sum. Both Kehoe and Hogan declined to disclose how much the house sold for.

Last April, the Sunday Independent reported that Hogan had an outstanding service charge of €4,320 on his Portuguese holiday home.

Hogan said he hadn't paid this as he was in a dispute with the complex's management company.

"Would you pay a charge if you were unhappy with the service?" he said.

Why Fingleton personally granted certain prominent people loans with unorthodox terms and conditions has never really been explained.

The building society boss has maintained his silence since departing Nationwide with a €1m bonus, an expensive watch and a pension which at one stage was worth €27m.

Loans to Fianna Fail politicians according to a report by Prime Time so far include a 106 per cent loan of €1.6m to Charlie McCreevy (despite rules banning the society from giving 100 per cent mortgages), as well as €7m to Francie O'Brien, an ex-Fianna Fail senator, and €3m to Don Lydon, also a FF senator.

Irish Nationwide's loans to Fianna Fail politicians have been publicly criticised by two members of the current Cabinet -- Labour's Joan Burton and Fine Gael's Leo Varadkar.

Gerry McGinn, who took over the building society after Fingleton, said in May 2011 that: "The board gave Michael Fingleton extraordinary powers. He was able to make decisions on all sorts of matters without referral. Invariably the loans were within the powers granted to him by the board."

In a bizarre Catch-22 this meant that, no matter how unusual the Fingleton loans appear, what he did appears to have been inside his all- encompassing remit.

The favourable treatment of special borrowers contrasts with Fingleton's well documented treatment of ordinary people, with the society prepared down the years to chase widows to the Supreme Court and even send one borrower to jail.

The €5.4bn cost to the taxpayer of Irish Nationwide equates to collecting the household charge at current levels from now until 2045.

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