Tuesday 25 October 2016

As we recover, there are some things we must not forget

Published 08/07/2015 | 02:30

'Any resolution of the Quinn/IBRC dispute is, at heart, a political deal'
'Any resolution of the Quinn/IBRC dispute is, at heart, a political deal'

If Mark Twain was right that humour is tragedy plus time, then the epic legal battle between the Quinn family and the former Anglo Irish Bank should be one of the greatest Irish comedies of all time.

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It is anything but.

Yesterday we were served with a timely, if vastly overdue, reminder of the lengths the State has gone to to secure assets in the Quinns' International Property Group (IPG), once valued at €500m.

The Special Liquidators of the IBRC (formerly Anglo) have revealed that they and their agents have met with dishonest and fraudulent activity when they tried to recover assets in Russia, including contrived bankruptcies and the falsification of documents.

The passage of time has, perhaps, helped us forget the initial trauma of the banking collapse. And it has, perhaps, helped us forget that it was the Quinns who initiated - and admitted initiating - a staggering scheme to put assets beyond the reach of Anglo after share receivers were appointed to the Quinn Group in April 2011.

Both Sean Quinn Snr and Sean Quinn Jnr were jailed three years ago for breaking court orders not to dissipate or otherwise interfere with the IPG.

Sean Snr's nephew, Peter Darragh Quinn, simply refused to turn up to receive his punishment. Passing sentence, High (now Supreme) Court Judge Elizabeth Dunne said the trio engaged in a "complex, complicated and no doubt costly" series of steps designed to put assets beyond the reach of the bank in "a blatant, dishonest and deceitful manner".

The reason why the anti-interference orders were first issued in the summer of 2011 by High (now Supreme) Court Judge Frank Clarke was - not unreasonably - in order to preserve the IPG assets pending resolution of a dispute between Anglo and the Quinns.

Instead, the State, through the aegis of the IBRC, has been led on an international game of hide-and-seek to secure the assets (and their lucrative €35m-a-year rent roll) apparently by nefarious individuals who have double-crossed the Quinns.

But now, key assets in the IPG (many others are still missing) are back in play. And they have come back into play just as the Quinns and the IBRC have swapped position papers as part of their bid to settle one of two competing lawsuits.

The Quinns are suing IBRC claiming that some €2.34bn in loans Anglo made to various Quinn companies were illegal as they were used to prop up Anglo's share price. In its counter-claim, the IBRC - ie, the State - alleges the Quinns were involved in a conspiracy to place assets beyond its reach.

If the family's main case is settled, the conspiracy claim - which the family denies - will fall away.

A settlement will save a fortune in legal costs, which we as taxpayers can't afford to sniff at. But if the litigation falls away, any opportunity for the issues to be aired in public - for us to form a view as to who was right or wrong - will fall away too.

In theory, the Quinns cannot benefit from the partially recovered IPG assets as the special liquidators are legally bound to recover assets in the name of creditors, chiefly the State.

In practice, however, the timely re-appearance of elements of the portfolio are likely to loom large over any deal: if the Quinns drop their claim, 'what do they get in return?' is not such an unreasonable question to ask.

Any resolution of the Quinn/IBRC dispute is, at heart, a political deal.

It must be signed off by Finance Minister Michael Noonan, who appears hell bent on dissociation - nature's tincture of forgetting - by pouring the political equivalent of liquid concrete on the IBRC and Nama before the general election.

But these multi-headed hydras have a habit of making us remember, of pulling us back to the darkest hours of the financial crisis.

Trauma hurts, but there are some things we must not forget.

At the very least, the terms of any deal must be published in the public interest.

Irish Independent

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