Thursday 14 December 2017

Guilty verdict is scant relief for bank as questions remain about its operations

Shane Hickey London

AFTER two trials spread over 16 months, there will be many people in Allied Irish Banks who will be glad to finally see the back of Achilleas Kallakis and Alexander Williams.

Still, the guilty verdict throws up a litany of questions about the operation of the bank during the boom years.

First introduced to AIB in 2003, Kallakis seemed like the ideal client. A member of a wealthy Greek shipping family and undoubtedly well connected throughout the City of London, he had what appeared to be the golden ticket for a property deal – a guarantee which would ensure rents on commercial properties were paid for years in the future.

The apparent guarantee from SHKP, one of the top five firms on the Hong Kong stock exchange, was a very good bet according to the former AIB chairman Dermot Gleeson.

But were the guarantees checked? Did AIB contact the Hong Kong company to ask them the most basic of questions – whether these guarantees were valid?

No, said one former manager, nor would they have normally done so. SHKP was apparently acting as a tenant and it would not be usual to do this. And then the loans gathered speed. As did the junkets.

In line with his larger-than-life personality, Kallakis liked to dine out on the wealth he had generated from his business enterprises.

Members of the AIB property team went to the 2006 World Cup final in Berlin, then went to Mauritius for a three-day "thank you" trip at the end of a deal and enjoyed Kallakis's birthday party in St Petersburg – but were quick to say they paid for their own flights for this one.

Was this expense excessive? No, the junkets were in line with what would be expected of a client of Kallakis's stature, the court heard.

Throughout all this, no questions of any major consequence were asked about his background.

In fact, it took another bank to raise the alarm about Kallakis. Helaba, a German firm which was being talked to about talking some of the exposure on the loans, raised the question of a former conviction.

It was quickly realised that Stefanos Kollakis and Martin Alexander Lewis, two men convicted of conspiracy to commit forgery for selling bogus titles to unsuspecting Americans in 1995, were in fact Achilleas Kallakis and Alex Williams.

Finally AIB woke up. But at the most fraught time in the history of banking in Ireland – 2008.

A team of executives flew to Hong Kong to question whether the guarantees were real, the same guarantees without which the loans made no commercial sense. The answer? SHKP had never heard of the men nor the portfolio of properties.

And so, days away from the state guarantee, AIB had to act. In a deal shrouded in secrecy and known only to a handful, the portfolio of 14 remaining properties was taken over and sold to another Irish firm at a bargain price – but under the provision that AIB get 30pc of the future profits on any sale.

After a court case that lasted 16 months and exposed some of the lacklustre practices of the bank at the peak of the boom, it looks like that end was less clean than it had hoped.

Indo Business

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