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Wednesday 17 September 2014

Blackstone PR machine kicks in

Published 24/08/2014 | 02:30

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Andrew Dowler

Efforts by Blackstone to contain the fallout arising from the High Court's recent judgment against them in their battle against developer Michael O'Flynn for control of his property empire stepped up a gear last week with the arrival in town of the private equity giant's managing director for Public Affairs for the UK and Europe.

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With news of Ms Justice Mary Irvine's decision overturning its appointment of examiners to four key companies within the O'Flynn Group hitting Bloomberg and The New York Times, senior Blackstone executive Andrew Dowler pulled into the five- star Conrad Hotel on Dublin's Earlsfort Terrace last Thursday for a round of individual briefings with a selection of the country's leading business journalists.

The hour-long sessions which ran from early morning until just after 5pm in the hotel's Iveagh Room are understood to have been arranged with the assistance of Dublin-based public relations firm, Drury Communications.

When asked about the purpose of the day-long session, Drury Communications director Billy Murphy told the Sunday Independent: "We won't be making any comment on behalf of Blackstone."

But while the detail of the Blackstone briefings remains unclear, it is understood that the New York headquartered company's chiefs are anxious that a more positive image of their business and investment strategy in Ireland is communicated.

That image took a serious hit following Mr O'Flynn's successful challenge to the High Court's decision to appoint Grant Thornton as interim examiner to four key companies within the O'Flynn Group on foot of an application by Blackstone subsidiary Carbon Finance.

In her judgment, Ms Justice Mary Irvine was scathing of Carbon's conduct, saying the company had not acted in the utmost good faith and had not fully disclosed all relevant information to Judge Brian McMahon when he had granted its application for the appointment of the examiner on July 29 last.

Elsewhere in her decision, the judge noted how Blackstone's demand for immediate repayment from Mr O'Flynn of some €16.7m in personal loans had been designed to gain control of the entire O'Flynn Group, because the loans were linked.

"When it issued the demand letters, it was not setting out to recover the money. The last thing it wanted was payment because that would have scuttled its plans," she said.

While Mr O'Flynn delivered on the undertaking he gave Blackstone on the eve of Ms Justice Irvine's judgment to repay in full his €24.9m in personal loans, that move and the High Court's ruling in his favour may end up amounting to little more than a ceasefire in a protracted war.

Indeed, in ruling in Mr O'Flynn's favour, the judge set October 7 next for a full hearing over Blackstone's efforts to gain control of the O'Flynn Group, saying Blackstone's approach had raised enough questions to warrant it.

Sunday Independent

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