independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Spotlight back on media-shy beef baron

'Good Man' Larry, as he is known by some in the beef trade, or Mr Goodman, as he is known to his bankers, is the most interesting and least exciting business figure in modern Ireland.

He doesn't smoke or drink and he hasn't spoken in public since the beef tribunal 20 years ago until the 'horse DNA' scandal thrust him and his empire once more into the glare of unwanted publicity.

Goodman, who recently added the Bank of Ireland headquarters in Baggot Street, Dublin, to his property portfolio at a knockdown cost of €25m, is, once again, one of Ireland's richest men, with his own helicopter, private jet (Cessna Citation) and opulent mansion and 700-acre estate, Braganstown House, near Castlebellingham in Co Louth.

At 75 years of age he remains lean and hungry looking as he retains full control of ABP Foods, the cash cow of his empire, based on the sale and export of Irish beef.

Although well known to Irish farmers as the first man to pay 'on the nose' when cattle went into his slaughter houses, Goodman first became a public figure in 1987 when he became the centrepiece of Taoiseach Charles Haughey's job creation schemes.

He ploughed €237m into the Irish beef processing sector, described by Haughey as "the most significant by any indigenous industrialist in the history of the State".

The close relationship between the two men was central to Haughey recalling the Dail in 1990 to pass special legislation appointing an examiner, Peter Fitzpatrick, to his firm and saving Goodman and his empire from a syndicate of 33 banks who were threatening to liquidate his business over debts of €585m.

Goodman was given seven years to repay the debt, which he did in a shorter timeframe and he regained full control of his empire from the syndicate of banks, most of whom are still working with him.

He also managed to do so while becoming a central figure in the beef tribunal, which arose out of a World In Action programme. The tribunal uncovered a litany of irregularities in the beef and cattle trade. Goodman himself gave evidence in 1993 and although the tribunal found that it was "a deliberate policy in the Goodman Group of companies to evade payment of income tax" he escaped largely unscathed, apart from the unwanted publicity.

In the years following the tribunal, Goodman the taxpayer forked out more than £5m to cover his legal costs, an enormous sum at the time.

Since then Goodman's private holding company, ABP Foods, has grown into one of the largest beef processors in the world.

Goodman, who lives quietly with his wife Kitty, shuns the Irish social scene. His son Laurence works in the business but is not a director of his main companies.

Over the years he has invested in large commercial property ventures such as the Setanta Centre in central Dublin and now the Bank of Ireland headquarters. He is also one of the biggest investors in private health care in Ireland with stakes in the Blackrock Clinic, the Hermitage Clinic and the Galway clinic among his investments.

When asked for an interview earlier this week his spokesman said that there was "absolutely no chance" that he would speak personally about the burger controversy.

But such has been the international furore that he gave an interview to the Financial Times this weekend to deny that cost cutting was behind it and to question the DNA testing results which have plunged the Irish beef sector into crisis.

We are unlikely to hear much more from Larry Goodman, a man who has always believed that actions speak louder than words.

Sunday Independent

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