Tuesday 12 December 2017

Billionaire Wilbur Ross rang Michael Noonan about Greek banks

A group of investors, led by US billionaire Wilbur Ross, pumped €1.3bn into Greek lender Eurobank in 2014. Photo: Bloomberg
A group of investors, led by US billionaire Wilbur Ross, pumped €1.3bn into Greek lender Eurobank in 2014. Photo: Bloomberg
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

US billionaire Wilbur Ross contacted Finance Minister Michael Noonan late last year to discuss the recapitalisation of Greek banks, where he is an investor.

Details of Minister Noonan's calendar show Wilbur Ross contacted the Limerick TD late last year to discuss alternative approaches available for the recapitalisation of Greek banks.

Mr Ross, who led a group of investors that had pumped €1.3bn into Greek lender Eurobank in 2014, held a half-hour call with Mr Noonan on November 2, according to documents released under Freedom of Information.

At the time, Mr Ross had been concerned about the governance of Greek banks and the structure of a potential fresh recapitalisation after stress tests carried out by the European Central Bank found a capital requirement of €14.4bn.

Investors - including Mr Ross - expressed concerns that the Greek government might use the opportunity of the recapitalisation to cement its control of the banks.

On October 2, Mr Ross sent Mr Noonan a letter requesting a meeting to discuss alternative approaches to recapitalisation. Ireland has no direct role with Greece's battered banking market, but the Eurogroup of Eurozone finance ministers, including ours, was involved in signing off on a recapitalisation scheme for Greek lenders last year.

A spokesman for Mr Noonan said that given the intervention Mr Ross made in Bank of Ireland, the minister was "happy to listen to" Mr Ross's concerns.

The businessman sold his entire stake in Bank of Ireland in June 2014, having tripled his money.

"I'm told the minister was in complete listening mode on the call. Somebody they were willing to give some time to had expressed concerns.

"They were happy eventually to listen to those concerns and have a think about what he had to offer, and what he had to say," the spokesman said.

He said officials here were happy to share Ireland's experiences with their Greek peers and set about organising a call with counterparts in Athens after Mr Ross's call. However, the spokesman stressed that they were not planning to articulate Mr Ross's concerns.

"The Department thought it could be beneficial to remind Greek colleagues how Ireland had benefited from private sector investment in our recovering banking sector," the spokesman said.

"That would include discussing the importance of support at key times."

However, within days Greek authorities took action in relation to the banks and no action by officials in the Department was ultimately taken.

The spokesman said there has been no further calls in relation to this issue.

Mr Ross did not respond to an email requesting comment.

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