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Nick Webb: Russian oligarchs had eyes on Conroy’s gold

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Cast members perform a scene from Disney's The Lion King

Cast members perform a scene from Disney's The Lion King

The late Eddie Haughey. Photo: David Conachy

The late Eddie Haughey. Photo: David Conachy

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Cast members perform a scene from Disney's The Lion King

A Russian oligarch was rather keen on Ireland's only gold mine in Clontibret, which is being developed by Richard Conroy's listed Conroy Gold.

"Some guy with a Russian accent rang up and said I will give you any money you want but I want 80pc of all the gold. I thanked him and thought that it was another call I could have done without," Conroy told me last week.

"I heard afterwards that he may have been one of these oligarchs trying to get his money out of Russia."

Conroy has spent the last 20 years and "about €11m" exploring and proving up the Clontibret gold mine in Monaghan. The number crunchers have come up with a €32m price tag for the its development. Gold could be poured in as little as three years time. This opens the door for Conroy to sell a stake in the project to help fund the bills.

"Now that we have reached this stage, serious discussion can take place now onwards," he said. "We'd want a substantial percentage and by that I'd mean at least 25pc to 30pc and possibly more."

Russian oligarchs aside, Conroy sees potential gold partners coming from a far wider group than the usual suspects in the resources sector. For example, electronics giant Samsung has partnered with an African gold miner recently. Specialist financial funds and even rich individuals may be interested in coming on board.

Conroy has attracted no end of heavy hitters onto its share register, with billionaire Dermot Desmond, Aussie gazilionaire Bruce Rowan and private equity baron Seamus Fitzpatrick owning shares. Fitzpatrick, who runs the €3bn CapVest group, is Conroy's nephew...and the firm's deputy chairman. Quite a contact book to have.

 

From the Lion King to pensions, Gallagher splashes out

Fresh from a €28m knock-out bid which secured the iconic Grand Canal Theatre - which hosts the record- breaking Lion King - in Dublin's docklands, John Gallagher has continued to splash the cash.

Last week he spent close to €5.6m buying 3.6m shares in sleepy financial services outfit IFG. Gallagher now has 9.7pc of the company and is the listed firm's single biggest shareholder.

He's also chairman.

"IFG has done a lot of restructuring in recent years and with the recent sale of its Irish business to Willis, the business is now a more focussed entity. He's positive on the business hence his purchase," according to my snouts.

While Gallagher was upping his stake, so was San Francisco based investor Kabouter Management, which now holds 6.2pc of the pensions group.

Kabouter "sometimes engages in various forms of friendly shareholder activism intended to help the companies we invest in become more attractive to institutional investors sooner than they otherwise would."

Yikes.

Gallagher, who famously called the top of the market when selling Jurys Doyle to cash-crazed developers, is back in Irish property with gusto.

Along with wife Bernie Gallagher, he's been buying up commercial, leisure and retail assets in Dublin and Cork.

But as the BGE Theatre buyout shows, he's got a thing for show biz. He moonlights as the front man for four- piece rock band Dakota 66. Wonder if the theatre needs a house band?

 

China puts even more money into another of AbVen's own companies

China has put a big slug of money into Dublin telecoms outfit Accuris Networks as part of a €15m funding round. It's the second major investment by the €100m China Ireland Growth Technology Capital Fund and it shows just quite how small the tech space really is. The China fund is managed by Summit Bridge Capital, which is a joint venture between Dublin-based Atlantic Bridge Capital and Silicon-Valley based WestSummit Capital. The tax payer - via the National Pensions Reserve Fund - and China Investment Corporation have put money into this fund.

Atlantic Bridge Capital (AbVen) is a serious Irish investor, with former Parthus boss Brian Long and Elaine Coughlan at the helm.

Backers of the funds have included the likes of Dermot Desmond, Denis O'Brien and ex CBT chief Bill McCabe.

One of Atlantic Bridge Capital's "venture partners" is Larry Quinn. He's one of the best known investors in the telecoms sector and was one of the pioneers of text messaging back in the 1990s with his firm Aldiscon. Quinn is also chairman of Accuris.

So the taxpayer is putting money into a company chosen by Atlantic Bridge's partners... which has already invested in the company at an earlier stage. Last month the China fund invested in Fieldaware as part of a €24m funding round. Atlantic Bridge was an early investor. A trend is developing here.

AbVen told me that the investments in Accuris and Fieldaware "were decided on solely by representatives of West Summit" and that the venture firm "did not participate in the funding decisions."

 

Haughey family consolidates their boardroom power at Norbrook

There are changes afoot at Norbrook Laboratories, the animal pharma giant founded by the late Eddie Haughey - Lord Ballyedmond.

Haughey was tragically killed in a helicopter crash earlier this year. The future direction of Norbrook, the largest privately owned animal pharma company in the world, was under review.

While a trade sale or a flotation are options that have been suggested for the company, particularly when markets were buoyant, it now looks as if the Haughey family are copperfastening their grip on Norbrook. Eddie Haughey's wife Mary and eldest son Edward Jr joined the board of parent group Norbrook Holdings recently. Company documents show that all the issued shares are held by "the estate of Lord Ballyedmond".

The arrival on to the board of Mary Haughey - that's Lady Ballyedmond - and Edward Jr will boost the family's presence, as Haughey's youngest son James was appointed as a director of the firm in August 2013, several months before his father's death.

Martin Murdock, the financial brains behind the Norbrook operations, will now have more of a helping hand from the family.

Things are rattling along at Norbrook, where global profits from the diverse group of companies and interests passed the €26m mark last year. It was the company's best year since its foundation.

A rather fitting way to go out.

Sunday Indo Business