Saturday 16 December 2017

Derek Quinlan's €1.3bn Brussels deal in fresh twist as Dutch seller's owner is arrested

Financier Derek Quinlan
Financier Derek Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan Commercial Property Editor

Financier Derek Quinlan's bid to revive his career through the proposed acquisition on behalf of European investors of Brussels' Finance Tower from the real estate giant Breevast has taken an extraordinary twist after one of the Dutch company's owners, Frank Zweegers, was arrested.

Mr Zweegers was arrested last Thursday on the Italian island of Capri when, during a routine check of luxury yachts, police discovered that there was an outstanding European arrest warrant against him in Belgium.

According to the Dutch newspaper 'Volkskrant', the warrant stems from allegations that Mr Zweegers paid thousands of euro in bribes to the former head of the Belgian federal judicial police, Glen Audenaert.

Mr Audenaert is alleged in return to have lobbied for the federal police's headquarters to be moved to the RAC complex in Brussels in 2013. The RAC complex was owned at the time by Breevast - Mr Zweegers' company.

While Mr Audenaert admitted in 2012 that he had received money from Mr Zweegers, he insisted that it had been a gift to him and his wife - a personal friend of Mr Zweegers.

In a statement issued last Monday, Mr Zweegers denied paying any money to Mr Audenaert.

A spokesperson for Mr Zweegers said that the businessman "did not commit any criminal offence in this matter" and "fully cooperated in the investigation of the Belgian judiciary".

Mr Zweeger's spokesperson also rejected claims made in the Belgian media that he had refused to meet with Belgian detectives for questioning.

"Since 2012 Mr Zweegers asked three times through his lawyer to be allowed to give a statement with the investigating court, but the Belgian judiciary never responded. He is therefore also very surprised by this European arrest warrant," the spokesperson said.

In a brief statement following Mr Zweegers' arrest, a spokesman for Breevast said: "Frank Zweegers states that he fully cooperates with an investigation conducted by the Belgian judicial authorities. We emphasise that Breevast is not a party in this case. There are no suspicions of involvement against the company."

Asked by the Irish Independent if the arrest of Mr Zweegers might have an impact on Derek Quinlan's negotiations with Breevast for the proposed purchase of the Finance Tower in Brussels, a spokesman for Mr Quinlan declined to comment.

A source close to the negotiations insisted however that Mr Zweegers "was not involved in any way with the Quinlan Real Estate negotiations which are ongoing".

Mr Quinlan and Quinlan Real Estate are acting as the lead adviser to a group of European property investors seeking to acquire the Finance Tower.

While the financier is understood not to have any equity stake in the potential €1.3bn transaction, should he manage to secure the deal to buy the 31-storey (200,000sqm) building, it would represent the largest single real estate transaction by value in Belgian history.

The successful acquisition of the Finance Tower would also prove to be a remarkable turnaround in Mr Quinlan's fortunes following the crash, and the transfer of his various companies' borrowings on to the books of Nama.

While the financier's principal boom-era operation, Quinlan Private, and its associated entities had some €11bn in assets under management at their peak, the onset of the global economic crisis in 2007 and the subsequent implosion in property markets here and internationally saw him enter Nama in 2010 as one of its most-indebted borrowers.

Coupled with his involvement in an array of investment partnerships, Mr Quinlan's borrowings were reported to be in the region of €3.5bn before he embarked on an aggressive round of asset disposals aimed at paying down his debts to Nama and his other bank creditors.

Included in those sales were the financier's disposal of his stake in the Maybourne Hotel Group, which owns London's world-famous Claridge's, Berkeley and Connaught Hotels; the Knightsbridge estate, and the Citigroup skyscraper.

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