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Taxpayers facing a €100m loss over Ardawn meltdown

Quinn and high rollers are hosed in receivership

High-rolling land speculators including Senator Feargal Quinn and a former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank have lost €75m of their own money and left the taxpayer facing a bill that could hit €100m.

Last week, Nama appointed Kieran McCarthy of accountants Hughes Blake as receiver to eight companies within the group on foot of debts of €120m and instructions to sell 500 acres of land estimated to be now worth only €20m.

Ardawn bought its land bank, primarily in Wicklow and Kildare, at the peak of the boom with money raised from 500 clients of NCB.

Directors of Ardawn who were on the board when it was buying its disastrous land bank include Peter Murray, a former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank; Pat Shine, a former partner in PwC; and Greg Dilger, the head of wealth management at NCB.

The group bought at bubble-valuations of €300,000 an acre on average and were active players in Ireland's land-buying mania. However, the land-speculation group structured its deals to protect investors, borrowing on a non-recourse basis via firms set up specifically to do each deal.

This makes it impossible for Nama to pursue individual investors for the losses now facing the taxpayer.

Ardawn did sign an interest shortfall guarantee with AIB to cover payments of up to €35m in relation to some land deals but the 99 per cent state-owned bank allowed this be bought out for less than €1m.

Hughes Blake is expected to sell Ardawn's assets, including 200 acres in Newcastle, Co Wicklow, and 200 acres in Arklow among other sites.

The assets in receivership are believed to earn only a tiny income relative to their massive debts. Grandiose plans by Ardawn to develop the sites as houses or mixed-use projects are unlikely to ever be realised. Farmers are considered among the most likely to be prepared to buy its lands, which are in most cases in scenic locations.

Jack O'Keefe, an ex-banker with First Active, is expected to continue to manage the sites under the direction of Hughes Blake.

NCB earned placing fees of €8m fundraising for Ardawn in 2005 and 2006, attracting in up to 500 clients. Ardawn employees also earned hefty fees.

Ardawn has a small number of other assets bought with borrowing from British banks who are not in Nama. These sites are not in receivership.

Sunday Indo Business