Business Irish

Saturday 30 August 2014

Quinns in jail, Clerys saved and big business deals struck

Published 30/12/2012 | 05:00

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Looking back on the year: from private equity scavenging Irish assets to Nama calling time on Johnny Ronan and Richard Barrett's debts, Roisin Burke remembers the big events that took place in 2012

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Quinns sent to the clink

It was a lively year for Ireland's version of the Ewings.

IBRC's agents were led a merry dance in pursuit of €500m in missing income from the Quinn family's international property empire, operated via machinations of Byzantine complexity stretching from Belize to the Ukraine and beyond.

The High Court ordered ruined former billionaire Sean Quinn, his son Sean Jnr and nephew Peter Darragh Quinn not to put assets beyond the reach of the former Anglo bank.

Quinn and his son were both sentenced to time in prison for failing to comply with the order not to asset strip, a contempt that the judge described as "nothing short of outrageous", calling Quinn Snr "evasive and unco-operative" and describing some of his evidence "not credible". Peter Darragh high-tailed it over the Border.

Tales of mysterious trips to the British Virgin Islands, doctored contracts, a €100,000 wedding cake charged to company expenses, along with mortgage payments on luxury homes and designer clothes paid for with company credit cards unfolded. A fascinating candid camera admission of willingness to lie to a court by Peter Darragh Quinn emerged.

Sean Quinn Jnr may now sell his €800,000 Dublin home to purge his contempt, while his dad celebrates the new year in jail.

Vestiges of a formerly highflying lifestyle including a 2005 Dassault Falcon 200EX private jet (complete with gold bathroom accessories) and Agust chopper were put on the market.

Now the epic saga is set to be made into a movie. We can't wait to see how the props people recreate that hundred-grand cake.

Vulture capitalists swoop on Ireland

Scavenging American and British venture firms had a particularly busy year, seeking to peck whatever fleshy bits are left on the bones of the country's sunk assets.

Bank of Ireland shareholder Kennedy Wilson bought €360m of former Bank of Scotland Ireland loans and has its eye on over €1bn more. It also bought State Street's Dublin docklands HQ for over €100m and the Gasworks apartment building in Dublin 4 for €40m.

Wall Street giant Apollo bought MBNA's Irish credit card business and bagged a €1.78bn Lloyds Irish loanbook for just £149m (€180m). It sniffed around Irish Life also.

Bernard McNamara's former hotel and rugby haven, The Burlington, was sold for €67m to private equity giant Blackstone recently and it's looking for its next deal.

Next up is likely to be the slug-out to buy €260m of Treasury Holdings' former Dublin portfolio.

Treasury goes wallop

Nama called time on bearded mamil (middle-aged man in lycra – he's a cycling aficionado) Johnny Ronan and pretty boy Richard Barrett's almost €1bn debts earlier this year, despite the duo's battle to overturn the move. Related legal wrangles continue.

HP accuses Mike Lynch and Autonomy

"I believe in innovation in all areas except in accounting," Autonomy founder Mike Lynch has said, referring to accusations of deliberate book-cooking levelled by tech giant HP, which bought the company he founded for €10bn last year.

The Cambridge-educated, Tipperary-born entrepreneur vehemently rejects the allegations and has lawyered up.

GloHealth enters the market

Insurance industry veterans Oliver Tattan and Jim Dowdall's eagerly anticipated health insurance company entered the market this year, promising to sock it to the ruinously expensive competition. The predicted price war has yet to materialise though.

Sale of the century at Clerys

The home of the big clock and a million fond shopping memories sold its hefty debt to Boston turnaround experts Gordon Brothers for around €14m.

IBRC sues Ernst & Young

Auditors are watchdogs, not bloodhounds, the saying goes. Ex-Anglo bank IBRC thinks its auditor has a case to answer for not sniffing out alleged irregularities there, and is suing.

Ernst & Young says it will "vigorously defend" the action.

McKillen battles Barclays

Belfast-born developer Paddy McKillen continues to battle the billionaire Barclay twins to preserve his share in the luxury hotel group that owns Claridges, the Connaught and The Berkley.

Backed by funds from Quatari royalty, McKillen says he has the financial power to war it out.

Paddy Shovlin goes bankrupt in Britain

The half-built Beacon Quarter apartment block in Dublin may still be a hideous eyesore, but its Ferrari-loving developer is getting on with things elsewhere.

Shovlin, along with fellow Landmark Development directors Pat and Anthony Fitzpatrick, were declared bankrupt and cleared of millions in debt in Britain.

They join the bankrupt- in-Britain honour role, which also includes names like Bernard McNamara, Ray and Danny Grehan and Cork's John Fleming.

What's the big deal?

There were some big-ticket sales and acquisitions in 2012 and some people got rather rich in the process.

Galwayman Gerry Barry sold Fintrax, the international VAT-back firm he founded, for €170m, in a megasale advised by Raglan Capital.

A US fund bought into Brian Enright's logistics company Syncreon, which is now believed to be worth around €600m.

Soup makers Cully & Sully sold to a US organic food company for a reported €11m plus €4.5m possible earn-out.

C&C bought US alcoholic apple brew maker Vermont Hard Cider for €232m and spent €12.4m (plus debt) on Tipperary water producer Gleeson Group.

A company controlled by telco and media tycoon Denis O'Brien shelled out €45.5m for Siteserv, in a deal that generated lots of media comment.

Paul Coulson's Ardagh paid €721m for American container maker Anchor Glass, and €85m for aluminum can making group Boxal.

Lamborghini-driving ex-accountant Aidan Heavey's Tullow Oil bought a Norwegian oil interest for £418m and Oisin Fanning's San Leon paid over £60m for Aurelian Oil & Gas.

Dublin-listed DCC bought a Statoil business for around €11m as part of its expansion into Scandinavia.

FBD sold a re-insurance subsidiary for €35m.

Bloxham collapses

It's not been an easy time for stockbrokers. Ireland's oldest, Bloxham, collapsed in May.

It emerged the stockbroker was insolvent with €13.9m in liabilities. Worse still, €5m in capital had been overstated and over €1m in tax owed had been recorded as an asset instead of a liability.

The Central Bank's probe of what happened is "ongoing".

Ulster Bank's glitch

The bank has had to set aside €130m to deal with the cost of the fallout from a massive 'computer says no' technology breakdown that left thousands of its customers without their salary and social welfare payments or access to their accounts for weeks.

The ISEQ exodus

More firms either downgraded or dropped their Irish stock exchange listings.

Clinical trials company Icon ditched its Irish listing in favour of the NASDAQ and United Drug announced it was moving its listing to London, as did Greencore.

Both DCC and C&C may well follow suit.

Debt deal wrangles

Everyone is not singing off the same Christmas carol hymn sheet. Patrick Honohan told a German newspaper that a deal on the €3.1bn Anglo promissory note payment due in March was likely.

Pat Rabbitte said we won't be paying it. Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said the Government was "determined" to get a deal on it.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Taoiseach Enda Kenny are reportedly seething at their government partners' pronouncements.

Glanbia's milk spin-off

Dairy multinational Glanbia paved the way for future expansion and life beyond the end of milk quotas in 2015.

Glanbia got the go-ahead from shareholders to spin off a venture called Glanbia Ingredients Ireland to target the lucrative international nutritionals market.

Stakeholding farmers shared a €164m windfall as well as getting several sandwich-and-scone voting days out in the process.

US Techs love Ireland

There's something about Ireland that US technology firms just love. What could it be? Our fabulous tech talent? Perhaps, but you can get that cheaper in Hyderabad or Bangalore. Could it be, oh, our friendly corporate tax climate, perhaps? Dropbox, Swrve, Kobo and more set up house here, and transaction giant PayPal announced expansion to the tune of 1,000 jobs.

Europe to police our banks

This month, the European Central Bank gained new powers to supervise eurozone banks from 2014. It's the first stage of a mission to bring financial institutions across Europe closer so as to buttress the euro.

Meanwhile, €49bn more to aid floundering Greece was sanctioned and €40bn to support Spain's nationalised banks was agreed.

Providence oil discovery

Will Ireland become the new Texas? Will Cork be the new Aberdeen? Will Tony O'Reilly Jnr start wearing cowboy boots and a 10-gallon hat?

Providence Oil, where the O'Reilly family has a key share, announced that it expects to find up to 1.6 billion barrels of oil off the Cork coast.

Budget 2013

The eighth austerity budget, with its €3.5bn adjustment, hammered anyone who had a house, a car or kids, or was a carer.

On the faintly up side, it also factored in tax reforms aimed at helping SMEs and the film industry.

We're well into the austerity programme required by our international debt overlords. Only a few billion or so of an adjustment to go.

Sunday Independent

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