Monday 21 October 2019

Noonan 'willing to take €100m hit rather than sell to O'Brien'

Denis O’Brien: businessman bought loans linked to Topaz
Denis O’Brien: businessman bought loans linked to Topaz
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Finance Minister Michael Noonan was prepared to take a loss of €100m rather than sell IBRC loans to billionaire businessman Denis O'Brien, it was alleged yesterday.

The claims may now be investigated by the Commission of Investigation into the sale of IBRC assets, which was established by the Government following the controversy surrounding the sale of Siteserv to Mr O'Brien.

The fresh claims, which were first raised by former IBRC chief executive Mike Aynsley, relate to a bid by the telecoms tycoon to buy petrol retail giant Topaz.

Mr O'Brien eventually bought loans linked to Topaz, giving him ownership, from the liquidator of IBRC, after the 'bad bank' had been liquidated.

Mr Aynsley told the Banking Inquiry last week he was "shocked" when it was suggested to him that Mr Noonan would prefer to sell one of the bank's assets for €100m less, rather than offloading it to a certain businessman.

The claim was made in an email to Mr Aynsley from one of his staff who was detailing a conversation he had with a Department of Finance official.

"The bank executive then moved the conversation to the possible sale of another major business asset and asked the Department of Finance official whether he would be in agreement with a certain price in the sale process from the same Irish business person or his company, or alternatively €100m less from another party," Mr Aynsley told the Banking Inquiry.

He added: "The response from the official was that the lower price would be preferable and that he believed the Minister for Finance would be supportive of that position."

Mr Aynsley told the Banking Inquiry the email detailing the exchange was in his IBRC inbox and should be available to the Oireachtas committee.

He said he contacted IBRC chairman Alan Dukes when he received the email and "specific actions were taken with regard to the individual involved".

He believed the €100m figure was hypothetical but insisted that the suggestion was real.

Mr Dukes also told the inquiry that Department of Finance officials pushed for performing assets to be sold when IBRC would have preferred to hold on to them and wait for a better price at a later stage.

"I was urged at one point by an official to speed up sales of various performing assets, whereas... we tended to take the view that if there was a loan that was performing... there wasn't a good reason to go and try to terminate that early, although this was what was being urged," he said.

The Department Finance did not respond to requests for comment and a spokesman for Mr O'Brien said his client did not wish to comment.

Irish Independent

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