Thursday 25 December 2014

Dearbhail McDonald: Complex case offers rare glimpse behind the scenes at NAMA

Published 19/12/2013 | 02:30

Belfast developer Paddy McKillen pictured last year
Belfast developer Paddy McKillen pictured last year

HE has won a rare court battle, but can property investor Paddy McKillen win the long war?

The Belfast-born businessman, who took on and defeated NAMA in his 2011 Supreme Court battle to prevent the agency taking over his loans, has been engaged in an openly hostile battle with the billionaire Barclay brothers.

Last month Mr McKillen lost the final stage in a £20m (€23.9bn) court battle in London against the twins for control of three of the British capital's luxury hotels -- Claridge's, the Berkeley and the Connaught.

But yesterday Mr McKillen placed the outcome of the London battle into a temporary reprieve when he secured a High Court date in Dublin for a legal action preventing IBRC -- formerly Anglo -- from selling a €246m tranche of his loans to the Barclays.

The sale of the tranche is critical as McKillen's €246m personal loans are secured by a charge on certain assets including his shares in Coroin Limited, the holding company behind the trio of hotels.

The IBRC, which was placed into special liquidation following a late night session of the Oireachtas last February (the so-called Prom Night), claims it is merely caught in the crossfire between McKillen and the Barclays.

But this is to oversimplify the role of the State in this increasingly complicated McKillen affair that resembles a Russian Mathroyshka doll. To portray the special liquidator of the IBRC as merely caught in the crossfire is to betray the complex history between McKillen and the Anglo/NAMA/ IBRC triumvirate.

It would also ignore the key role of that enigmatic Irishman Derek Quinlan, who lies at the heart of this dizzying dispute.

The former King Midas of Irish property struck a complex deal with the Barclays which gave the brothers rights to Quinlan's votes in Coroin.

By his own admission, Quinlan has been bankrolled by the Barclays, ostensibly as a sign of friendship.

This prompted McKillen to cry foul. The cries went unheeded as the High Court in London ruled that the transfer of control of shares by Quinlan to the Barclays did not breach McKillen's pre-emption rights under a shareholders agreement set up when the London hotels were first bought in 2004.

Separately, McKillen now claims that confidential information relating to his private and business affairs was leaked to a third party by a NAMA official.

It does not help that gardai are investigating serious allegations about alleged leaks and purported manipulation of property values by NAMA officials -- an investigation based in part on complaints by NAMA itself.

NAMA is the largest property company in the world: it is also a very secret one.

The decision to bury the IBRC and to cloak NAMA in a near blanket of legal secrecy is arguably backfiring.

The Government sought to hermetically seal Anglo with nationalisation. When that failed, it sought to pour liquid concrete over it with liquidation.

It is only through court actions that the public can see how the agencies operate.

Transparency is vital if we are to have any confidence in these agencies and the Government's much vaulted economic recovery.

Otherwise, we will pay a heavy price for state secrecy.

Irish Independent

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