Sean Quinn NI bankruptcy bid quashed by Belfast court
Published 10/01/2012 | 12:07
FORMER tycoon Sean Quinn could be effectively barred from relaunching his business career after a Belfast court ruled today that his bankruptcy should be dealt with in Dublin.
Just hours after the decision, Anglo Irish Bank, now rebranded the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC) which is seeking to recover billions in debt from Mr Quinn, moved to have him declared bankrupt in the Republic.
A High Court hearing is set for Monday.
The 65-year-old sought bankruptcy in Northern Ireland, where he could have started a fresh career after 12 months, but now faces a wait of up to 12 years in the Irish Republic.
The businessman's multibillion-euro empire collapsed over the last two years on the back of massive stock market gambles on the share price of the former Anglo Irish Bank.
In the High Court in Belfast Mr Justice Donal Deeny annulled the bankruptcy secured by Mr Quinn in Northern Ireland in November, after the bank successfully argued his 'Centre of Main Interest' was in the Republic.
Justice Deeny found that a lease produced by Mr Quinn for an office in an industrial estate in his native Derrylin in Co Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, was likely to have been drawn-up to try and "bolster" his case for UK bankruptcy.
Outside the court, Mr Quinn denied he had ever sought to mislead anyone and said he had always worked in Northern Ireland and had never used his home, just south of the Irish border, as an office.
"I must have got half a dozen offers of leased premises within days of the receiver going in there (to take over his former Quinn Group headquarters in Derrylin)," he said.
"I never done a day's work from southern Ireland in my life. I never done a day's work in my home. I never had any computers, I never had any IT system. Everything was always done from Derrylin.
"There was never any question of me deceiving the court and there was never any need for me to deceive the court."
The court had earlier heard that bankruptcy in the south lasts for up to 12 years, though recent reforms meant that the period can be reduced to five years if preferred creditors are paid.
Mr Quinn said the bank had presided over record losses and he claimed he was being made a scapegoat as a result of the fallout.
"The bankruptcy is just a deflection of what's going on here," he added.
Since Mr Quinn asked to be declared bankrupt in Belfast in November, he has been hit with two separate judgments of €1.74bon and €416m by the Commercial Court in Dublin over loans from Anglo.
The former billionaire was in the Belfast court to hear the judge announce he had annulled his Northern Ireland bankruptcy.
Justice Deeny said he did not accept that Mr Quinn was, as he had claimed, centring his affairs in the office in Derrylin Enterprise Park.
Mr Quinn had claimed he moved to the office after being forced to leave his former company's business headquarters and was offered alternative premises as a result of his standing in the community.
Justice Deeny said Mr Quinn enjoyed a level of goodwill in the border area where he created thousands of jobs, but the judge questioned whether a swift move to a modest office "could be painful to him".
The judge also questioned the lease, describing it as "a somewhat curious document" and noted what he called the "peppercorn rent" of only £50 a month.
Justice Deeny added: "Taking into account these and other submissions of counsel both for and against Mr Quinn I conclude, on the balance of probabilities, that this lease has been prepared at some much later date to try and bolster the case now being made."
In his judgment, he said that Mr Quinn had failed to disclose that he held an Irish passport but had no UK passport, that he voted in the Republic, or that 20pc of his taxes were paid in the south.
He said he could not safely conclude that failure to disclose these facts was a deliberate attempt to deceive, but said it was sufficient ground to rescind the bankruptcy order, had he not already decided to annul it on the grounds that Mr Quinn's centre of main interests was outside Northern Ireland.
The judge ruled that Mr Quinn's centre of main interest was in the Republic, shared between his home in Belturbet in Co Cavan and the offices of his advisers in Dublin, as he handled the litigation surrounding his affairs.
It had been claimed that Mr Quinn was not obliged to inform the bank of the location of the new Derrylin office he said he had opened, but the judge ruled that his decision to keep it secret meant it was not reasonably ascertainable by third parties.
Justice Deeny said: "I hereby annul the bankruptcy order of November 11 2011, obtained by Sean Quinn, on the ground that it should not have been made as the centre of the debtor's main interests was not in Northern Ireland at the time of bringing the petition, but within the jurisdiction of the High Court in Dublin."
He ordered that Mr Quinn pay the legal costs of both the bank and the Official Receiver.
Lawyers for IBRC indicated they wish to know the identity of any third party funding Mr Quinn's legal proceedings.
Barrister for the bank, Gabriel Moss QC, said Mr Quinn was now "bound to be made bankrupt" in the Republic.
Mr Quinn lost all control of his business in April, but before his downfall his story was a classic rags-to-riches tale.
He began his career with a £100 loan to dig gravel on his father's farm.
At the height of his success, the man dubbed "The Mighty Quinn" was worth a reputed €4.72bn.
Outside the court, Mr Quinn dismissed the legal action by the bank, arguing it was irrelevant whether he was declared bankrupt in the north or the south.
The former tycoon, who had international business interests in cement, insurance, glass and property, said his company had been wrecked as a result of the handling of the crisis.
"What Anglo Irish has done to the Quinn Group is like somebody taking a sledgehammer to a child's toy - they've destroyed it."