‘No drugs in my business’ – billionaire
Self-made billionaire Jim Mansfield hits out at the gossip about his son's friendship with Katy French and denies he made his fortune through the illegal drugs trade
SELF-MADE billionaire Jim Mansfield has finally hit back at ongoing rumours that he has earned his fortune through the illegal drugs trade, blaming the malicious chit chat on jealousy.
The business tycoon has also squashed rumours linking model Katy French's death from a suspected drugs overdose to his family.
And he has confirmed that his son, Jimmy Junior, was not with the model on the night that she collapsed.
The wealthy property developer, who is one of Ireland's most successful businessmen, with an estimated fortune of €1.7bn, has taken a stand after the rumours about his family and his business refused to die down, despite the fact that no evidence has ever been produced to support the claims.
"I've heard the rumours, but they don't bother me in the slightest. It's a load of absolute nonsense. A lot of it is down to jealousy.
Speaking at his office at Citywest hotel in Co. Kildare, Mr Mansfield said Weston Executive Airport, which much of the gossip has centred around, had a spotless reputation and that he believed not one drug had ever passed through the facility.
"If you take all the airports in Ireland, all the little ones and the big ones, Weston is one of the only airports in Ireland that we believe no drug has ever come through," he said.
"We have staff in Weston who have worked there since even before we bought it and, like the guards on the beat on the street who know everything that's happening, these people are there all the time and they know all the different people coming in and out, and I would say that not one drug has ever come through."
Mr Mansfield, who has invested a total of €65m in the airport, has called the people who are spreading the rumours "absolute liars" and he has challenged anyone with evidence to draw it to the attention of the guards.
"The people who are spreading these rumours are definitely liars in my opinion, because they have no such proof and if they have then the police should know about it, or we should know about it. I have no doubt that if drugs came through Weston, they would have been found. Just look at the amount of drugs that have been found in other airports.
"I would love to get someone who could tell me directly, some policeman or someone else, about who is spreading these rumours about me and drugs, not for money or anything -- but I'd love to take them out and I would bring them to court because there's no drugs in my business."
The vicious rumours have been circulating around the family since 2006 when an Irish-registered private jet owned by Mr Mansfield was impounded in Belgium as it was about to leave for Ireland.
"There was so much inaccurate and misleading information at the time. Stories were printed that the drugs were found on the plane, but no such thing ever happened. The drugs were seized before they even entered the airport in Belgium," he said.
"There was even a story that my plane had been locked up along with the pilots at a time when it was actually in Ireland, and indeed was being flown around Europe. The pilots had been released and were at home with their families for more than a week when this report came out."
In answer to claims that security checks at Weston Executive Airport are somewhat lacking, Mr Mansfield said: "People have claimed that there is no Customs or security. Nothing could be further from the truth. Weston is one of the most secure airports in the country. We have state-of-the-art facilities -- better than many airports in Ireland and even Europe.
"At great expense we voluntarily installed X-ray machines for baggage and people going through the airport, and these machines can even detect drugs.
"There is also a dedicated office for Customs at Weston and we have an excellent working relationship with both Customs and the gardai."
In recent times, the death of Katy French from a suspected drugs overdose has also added fuel to the vicious rumour mill which surrounds the Mansfield family.
Unsubstantiated reports have linked Mr Mansfield's son, Jimmy, to the blonde model on the night that she fell into a coma after allegedly taking a mix of alcohol and cocaine.
However, Mr Mansfield is adamant that there are no drug links whatsoever between Katy French and his family.
"Not at all," he said. "And anyone that says that, I can say straight out to them that they are absolute liars.
"Katy French's death had absolutely nothing to do with me or my family. I felt very sorry for her and for the family. She seemed a very nice person, but, other than that, it didn't affect me at all."
He added: "I would have met Katy three times in my life. I thought she was a very nice girl and that her death was very sad. I suppose all those types of people take some sort of drugs, which is terrible really, and Jimmy, my middle lad, would have known her well, but not that well.
"He would have known her for two or three months through Andrea [Roche -- Jim Mansfield's daughter-in-law] because she would have held the beauty contests here in Citywest.
Speaking about gossip that placed Jimmy Mansfield with the model on the night she collapsed, Mr Mansfield said: "I heard rumours that it linked back to Jim [Junior]. A few people said this, that and the other about Jimmy and the drugs, but maybe it was lucky he was away that week. He was in Spain at the time, and he came back afterwards.
"I've heard people say he was with her that night and all this sort of thing, but I happen to know he wasn't with her that night because he was away in Spain."
He also defended his family's reputation saying: "None of my sons have ever, ever taken drugs. I can sit here and honestly say that. I would never have had to talk to any of them about drugs in my life because they are simply not that way inclined. They're always too busy doing something else."
The defiant stance comes as the Mansfield group is keen to shake off any negative publicity surrounding Weston Executive Airport, which Mr Mansfield has called one of his biggest passions.
Under a new initiative, several public information evenings have been held by the group and thousands of leaflets have been distributed to locals living near the airport to address their concerns surrounding noise levels and the environment.
Mr Mansfield is now planning to centralise the runway at Weston at his own expense so that noise levels will be greatly reduced for area residents and so that safety standards at the airport will also be improved.
The move, which will not affect the number of aircraft currently using Weston, comes in addition to the tycoon's hopes to create a maintenance facility at the airport alongside an aeroplane museum for public use.
Although in poor health recently, Mr Mansfield says he is fighting fit and, despite doctors' concerns, cannot tear himself away from the work.
"I'm not too bad at the moment," he said. "I'm improving now. Hopefully I'll live another while. I keep looking forward, I seldom ever look back. I like what I do and I like to be able to do it. I've no great interest in going for holidays in the sun.
"I start now at 6.30am every morning and finish up early at 11pm each night. But I did have a holiday there a few weeks ago. I went off on a Friday evening and I came back on a Sunday," he quipped.
Mr Mansfield says that when he does indulge in some time away from the office, antique collecting and the refurbishment of old properties are among his greatest interests.
"I love looking at antiques and going to auctions and getting things done up," he said. "I have a collection of antique aircraft, which includes American President Eisenhower's Air Force One plane and the log book, that I'm hoping to put on display at Weston in a free museum for the public.
"I want to let all the people see and believe that what I decided to do when I first went into Weston, and my plans to make it a model airport, have been done. We have succeeded to a great extent so far and what we're doing now will help that greatly."
Speaking about his love of buying old houses and restoring them to their original glory, the businessman jokes, "it's probably a form of madness. For me, to be able to improve a property is a big thing," he says.
"When I see all the people around who have lovely properties just lying there and don't bother about it I do wonder if I am mad.
"When I get something I have to get it tidied. Palmerstown is now the most magnificent house in the country and it was falling to bits when I got it.
"It's unbelievable that there are so many beautiful properties around Ireland just lying there. Down around Cork and that, you see lovely places which are just turning to ruins."
Exuding a notably relaxed demeanour, Mr Mansfield said he takes the pressures of work with a pinch of salt.
"I don't feel I ever get stressed about things. The doctors are telling me I should be doing this and that and I shouldn't be here [at the office], but stress to me is when a doctor tells me I have to stay at home. I can't ever see myself stopping work. As long as I'm able to do it I will do it."
When questioned about what it feels like to be able to call himself a "billionaire", the property magnate said: "It feels like when I was a young lad going to school, if you got a half a crown you felt great and the few quid you'd have would still feel like that, to be able to have it is a good thing."
Mr Mansfield, who says he stays grounded by keeping a loyal group of people around him and by maintaining friendships with his childhood friends, says money doesn't even rate on his list of priorities.
"If money gets you to the stage where you forget about the people who are important to you and your friends from school, you're then lost," he says. "I have money in property and in this and that, but at the end of the day it means nothing to me really, it's no motivation at all to me. I get satisfaction from what I do and it all coming right.
"Money wouldn't come on my list of priorities at all. All I want is to be able to get a bit of money to eat every week and that'll keep me going. The family is my top priority; I love to have them all together and we're all very close."
Asked if -- with all his wealth -- he still wants for anything, the Citywest boss joked: "I certainly want a new heart and I can't get it, something to keep me going a bit longer."
The self-professed workaholic also says he has no regrets about his past.
"There's nothing that I have ever done that would ever keep me awake at night.
"When I look back at everything, I don't think I really have any regrets. I couldn't find much fault with anything I've done.
"I'm very happy with everything, but I sometimes think I could have done more and that I could have done it quicker.," Mr Mansfield added.