Tycoon fights for empire as creditors call for asset sale
TYCOON Sean Quinn was last night fighting a rearguard action to keep control of his multi-billion-euro business empire.
Lenders and creditors -- who arrived in Dublin this week -- are insisting the Quinns agree to sell off assets or give them a stake in parts of the group to lower their risk.
Mr Quinn, who built up his business from a quarry on the family farm in 1973, has so far refused to engage in any of these options.
Anglo Irish Bank and other major creditors have upped the ante in recent days in their bid to overhaul the massive €4bn-plus debt mountain that is owed to them.
But the situation has become more pressing since the Financial Regulator succeeded in having provisional administrators appointed to Quinn Insurance, the jewel in the crown of the group.
Speaking on RTE News yesterday, Mr Quinn strongly criticised the regulator's reasons for placing the company into provisional administrator, saying it was causing "major damage and threatening thousands of jobs".
Mr Quinn -- who was once Ireland's richest man and estimated to be worth more than €3bn -- said the decision was "one of the biggest errors in the history of corporate Ireland".
The regulator said it took the High Court action last Tuesday after it became aware that certain units of Quinn Insurance gave guarantees to bond investors that reduced the firm's assets by about €448m.
But Mr Quinn insisted last night that the guarantees were known to the watchdog for a number of years and contained in the company's accounts.
He said he had €100m of cash sitting in the bank to help meet claims and said the regulator was wrong to be "putting a company with 5,500 employees at risk".
The Quinn Group has been locked in discussions with banks for some months about €780m of bank and bond debt that falls due this year.
The refinancing will be one of the largest of any Irish business in 2010.
Sources said last night that it remained engaged in talks to refinance debt facilities, but insisted that there had been no discussion of asset sales yet.
Other sources say Anglo, which is owed about €2.8bn, and other major lenders led by Barclays, held a series of secret meetings over the past two weeks with top management at the Quinn Group.
They had become particularly concerned about the potential fallout from the regulator's move on the highly profitable insurance division.
Anglo said in its annual report, published this week, that it "is closely monitoring the situation and assessing potential implications of this development, which may have a negative impact on impairment charges in 2010".
A bank takes an impairment charge when it believes that it is at risk of not getting back all the money it is owed.
The lenders owed money include Bank of Scotland, AIB, Bank of Ireland, National Irish Bank, Ulster Bank, KBC Bank Ireland and HSBC, according to senior banking sources.
A group of US bond investors owed up to €600m by Quinn Insurance, and who were also advised by Barclays, were heavily involved in the talks.
Meanwhile, the Irish Independent has learned that the provisional administrators of the insurer, Paul McCann and Michael McAteer of Grant Thornton, received 12 approaches from parties interested in getting hold of the company.
However, the Grant Thornton duo are believed to have told all of the interested players that it will contact them if they decide to sell all or part of the business in the future.
finger in the dyke time: emmet oliver, page 25