Monday 26 September 2016

We should be told all details of any deal in Quinn-IBRC talks

We all have a stake in the outcome of Quinn-IBRC litigation, which is now in mediation

Published 28/06/2015 | 02:30

SEAN QUINN: Lost a spectacular bet on Anglo
SEAN QUINN: Lost a spectacular bet on Anglo

Once upon a time (four years ago, actually), the mighty Quinn Group, led by businessman Sean Quinn Snr, was placed into receivership by Anglo.

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What happened next bore all the hallmarks of a John LeCarre thriller.

The rise, fall and rise again of the Quinn family is the subject of the biggest commercial litigation in the history of the State, one that has recently slipped into a behind-closed-doors process of mediation.

There are many post-collapse deals (Siteserv, for example) whose broad, if not specific, terms merit publication in the public interest.

But if there is one matter that should be conducted in open air with floodlights, international observers and round-the-clock, ticker tape TV broadcasts, it is the outcome of the litigation between the Quinn family and the IBRC, the secretive Special Liquidation vehicle into which Anglo and its bould cousin Irish Nationwide were folded.

To quickly recap: Sean Quinn Snr helped bring down a bank (Anglo) that almost brought down a country (Ireland) by gambling on the share price of a runaway bank (Anglo) that itself relied on one asset class (property).

He used a dangerous financial instrument called Contracts for Difference (CFDs) - a form of leveraged bet on a share price - to build up an equally dangerous stake in Anglo.

If the share price had gone up, Sean Quinn Snr would have made billions and we would know nothing about it.

But we know all about the punt because Anglo's share price tanked, and now we're all paying for it.

Sean Quinn Snr was a bold boy. In 2008, the Financial Regulator removed him from his insurance business because he broke the law by taking €280m out of his cash cow Quinn Insurance Limited (QIL) to cover losses he incurred from his fatal dance with Anglo.

The regulator eventually put the entire insurance business into administration in 2010 because there was a massive black hole in QIL's finances.

Why does that matter to you? Once again, you're paying for it: all insurance policies are now subject to a 2pc levy for possibly 20 years.

Late last week we found out that Liberty Insurance, the US giant which bought over Quinn Insurance, is to cut 270 jobs, many in Fermanagh and Cavan - aka Quinn Country.

There may be political as well as economic consequences arising from the lay-offs.

Sean Quinn Snr enjoys a God-like status in Quinn Country.

But major job losses could rankle and damage the electoral prospects of Fine Gael, who are fighting a rearguard action to stave off the rise of Sinn Fein in the Border counties.

This is where the below-the-radar mediation between the Quinn family and the IBRC - as well as Le Carre flourishes - come into play.

When the share receivers moved, military style, to take over the Quinn Group in April 2011, it set off a spectacular chain reaction.

Patricia Quinn and her five adult children sued IBRC, claiming that €2.34bn loans made by Anglo to various Quinn companies were for the unlawful purpose of propping up the bank's share price.

But before the substantive dispute (now in mediation) could be heard, Sean Quinn Snr admitted giving his blessing to a scheme to put up to €500m worth of overseas properties beyond Anglo's reach.

This was in defiance of express court orders not to interfere with the Quinn's International Property Group (IPG).

Sean Quinn and his son, Sean Quinn Jnr, famously went to jail for contempt of court while Sean's nephew Peter Darragh Quinn simply didn't turn up for his porridge.

The Quinns claimed in court they were victims of a cruel double-cross by nefarious types in Eastern Europe, and the assets, incredibly, went missing.

Some €500m worth of bricks and mortar, with their €35m rent roll, went missing.

Jailing the Quinns didn't work, so the IBRC entered into a commercial agreement with A1 - a Russian asset-recovery firm - with the aim of securing key assets in Russia and Ukraine.

But what has happened to those gleaming overseas assets, and who is receiving some or all of that rent roll?

In all of the updates from the Special Liquidator of the IBRC, we have never been informed of how well the A1/IBRC/ recovery mission has been.

Now the Quinns and IBRC - ie the State - are in mediation, although we don't know what exactly is up for discussion.

Is it just the issues, now hugely refined, raised in the court case?

Are the overseas assets back in play?

If they are back in play, how? And if they are back in play, will the Quinns or IBRC get them or will both sides split the rewards?

Will we, as taxpayers who bailed out Anglo, ever know?

There appears to be increasingly desperate moves in political circles to get the Quinn deal done and dusted before the next general election.

Any deal would be regarded as a political coup for Fine Gael.

But what about us?

There is no doubt that commercial litigation is costly and, in many ways, mediation makes sense.

But this is no run-of-the-mill row.

There is, in my view, a huge societal price to pay for secrecy, especially given the unprecedented scale of Anglo's collapse as well as the monies and purported duplicity involved.

Deals of this type are not just agreements reached between private parties.

When the banks were guaranteed, the private affairs of a small cohort of individuals became the public interest and we need - within reason - to pierce that veil if there is to be any public confidence in our institutions. Every man, woman and child has a stake in the outcome of the Quinn/IBRC mediation process.

So, set up the floodlights, take your place in the crowd, this is one deal that should not fly under the radar.

Sunday Independent

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