Irish

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Worldwide search for the Quinns' 'buried' gold

Informants claim family tried to hide up to €500m from the State

MAEVE SHEEHAN and Ronald Quinlan

Published 01/06/2014|02:30

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Sean Quinn Snr. Picture: GERRY MOONEY
Sean Quinn Snr. Picture: GERRY MOONEY

IN the mammoth battle between the Quinns and the former Anglo Irish Bank, it's usually the Quinn family that is accused of keeping secrets.

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The secret €500m stash that the bank – now known as IBRC – claims the family is hiding offshore; the myriad of shady companies set up to conceal that stash; shady meetings in a Ukrainian restaurant where Sean Jnr and his cousin, Peter, ask advice from Russians associates on getting a suitcase full of $100,000 in cash out of the country.

On Friday morning, however, it was the IBRC's turn to reveal the trick up its sleeve. With intrigue to rival anything the Quinns could throw up, the bank revealed how for the past year it has been pursuing the information provided by a couple of secret informants feeding them information on the promise of a €15m share of the spoils.

According to the account given to the High Court, the latest chapter in the Quinn saga begins in 2012. More than a year had passed since the former Anglo took control of Sean Quinn's empire in his Ballyconnell heartland to settle a disputed €2.3bn debt. The bankrupt tycoon faced spending Christmas in Mountjoy jail, accused of "outrageous" contempt of court for not delivering up the allegedly hidden family assets.

His son, Sean Jnr, did three months.

In the Quinns' border county heartland, supporters took to the streets in protest.

Into this Quinn maelstrom stepped a couple of men with their eye on an opportunistic buck. They contacted Michael Staines, a well-known Dublin solicitor. They had information to impart about the missing Quinn millions – for a price.

The informants hadn't told Staines what information they had to trade, but he duly passed on their offer to Arthur Cox, the IBRC's legal firm.

Mike Aynsley, the IBRC's chief executive, had them checked out. Kroll, a firm of private investigators, and the gardai, found out that one of them had been acquitted of a criminal offence. One lived in Spain and the other in the Republic of Ireland.

The bank's board carefully considered the proposal. They suspected that the informants' sole motivation was money, according to informed sources. Aynsley briefed the Department of Finance which gave its approval to proceed.

The bank felt it "incumbent" upon them to try and establish whether there was any truth in what they were saying, given that, according to the informants, there was €500m at stake.

The deal was signed on March 15, 2013. By then Kieran Wallace had taken over as special liquidator of the toxic bank, so it was he who put the plan in motion. He too believed he had to give the informants a go – given the money at stake for the taxpayer. If their information was correct, they would pocket €15m – 3 per cent of the €500m they claimed to have located. If they were wrong, they got nothing.

The bank had little to lose.

On signing the deal, the informants handed over their first nugget: a bank account in Dubai which funds had been invested through – Investec. On investigating this, they found that the bank account existed, alright, but they could find no evidence to link the funds to the Quinn family.

In August 2013, Kieran Wallace met one of the informants at Arthur Cox solicitors in Dublin. The informant revealed that an unnamed "third party" had told him the Quinn family were investing in gold. He promised more information but wanted the bank to show that it would honour its side of the bargain. Wallace lodged €100,000 into an escrow account through Arthur Cox – a sign of the "seriousness" with which he regarded the information. After that the informants coughed up.

The informants' claims were included in affadavits opened in the High Court. They claimed Investec Bank invested €300m in gold for the Quinns through Dubai and Fiji. They claimed €200m was transferred to the Virgin Islands from Dubai.

They identified a "travelling fixer" various called Qasim Muhktar and Muhktar Ahmed – a man of Indian or Pakistani origin who allegedly travelled the globe first class to advance the "Quinn programme" of putting assets beyond reach. They provided his name, address and telephone numbers in Dubai, Manchester and India.

They claimed a businessman in Ballyconnell called Gerry O'Reilly was the "secret cash dispenser of hundreds of thousands of euros to oil the wheels" of the Quinns' "assets beyond reach" programme to leave the "principals with clean hands". And they claimed to have cracked the secret email address that the Quinns allegedly used to conduct their business abroad: that of their Russian contact, Andrei, and a list of email traffic they claimed could provide the key to the Quinns' hidden millions.

The IBRC believed the information was strong enough to act on. In February this year, it sought and got gagging orders in courts in London and in the US to ensure strict secrecy from anyone they spoke to. The last thing the bank wanted was for the Quinns to get wind of their insider information.

The investigation yielded little: Investec could find no trace of the alleged transactions carried out for the Quinn family; and the Gerry O'Reilly named by informants was actually Gerry Reilly – a prominent businessman and supporter of Sean Quinn who helped set up the Concerned Businesses Association after the former Anglo moved against the Quinn Group.

The man named as a "travelling fixer" lived at the address given by the informants. When the Sunday Independent called it yesterday, a young woman answered and said she was given the number by her mobile phone company in December. She said she had already been contacted by a lawyer on Friday, who wanted to know if she had been receiving any strange text messages on her phone from banks.

Attempts to contact Mr Reilly were unsuccessful.

There was one potential breakthrough, though: a litany of email traffic which drew in some of the leading protagonists in the global drama over the past three years. The content is not known.

Among those drawn into the web of emails were Peter Quinn, Sean Quinn's nephew and the alleged architect of the scheme to put assets beyond reach; the Russians, whom the Quinns claim double-crossed them; the Dubai business consultant, Michael Waechter, who has already denied involvement in the Quinn conspiracy.

The IBRC is to hear from a court in the US later this week whether the subject matter of these emails can be released to the bank. IBRC now hopes these will lead the way to the hidden Quinn family fortune.

But ultimately, as a source close to the Quinn family noted yesterday, the informants' intelligence has so far failed to turn up one cent of the fortune they are alleged to have squirrelled away. If there is a "pot of gold" then it's probably the same mysterious Russians who they claim double-crossed them by taking over their international properties who are responsible.

And last week, the liquidator ran out of time. The gagging orders expired last Thursday. As the Quinns were bound to get wind of what had been going on, IBRC went to the High Court to update the judge on what had been going on.

The Quinn family was as surprised as anyone to learn that informants had dished up goods on them for the past year. None of the family were in court, and they only learnt what happened afterwards through their lawyer on Friday afternoon.

Their response was, predictably, one of outrage: "We are simply astonished that a state controlled entity would be a party to such ethically and legally questionable actions. The allegations concerning €300m gold and €200m cash are absolute scurrilous lies and denied by the family in the strongest possible terms.

"The bank has been led on a wild goose chase by individuals who do not even have the decency to make themselves known to the courts – and in the process are now a party to completely groundless allegations against an international bank, an international finance banker, an Indian businessman and also a close friend of the Quinn family, all of whom have absolutely no involvement whatsoever in these matters."

Sunday Independent

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