Tuesday 21 November 2017

Court hears Sean Quinn was planning to open new insurance firm ‘Q2’

Stephen McCaffrey

A TOP official from the former Anglo-Irish bank has told of reading chatrooms linked to the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) to monitor gossip on the activities of former billionaire Sean Quinn suggesting the businessman was trying to set up a new insurance business.

Richard Woodhouse, a senior figure with the now nationalised lender, said internet blogs suggested the former tycoon was trying to return to business.

The evidence was given as a bid by the bank - now called the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC) and seeking to recover billions from Mr Quinn - to overturn his bankruptcy entered its second day at Belfast High Court.

Mr Woodhouse told the court that blogs on a GAA website, and written by people in the border area where Mr Quinn lived, substantiated rumours that Mr Quinn was setting up an office in a disused tyre factory in Belturbet, Co Cavan.

Mr Woodhouse said he believed the business would be a new insurance company called "Q2".

"I read these blogs," said Mr Woodhouse.

Mr Quinn voluntarily filed for bankruptcy in Belfast last month, claiming his business was based in Co Fermanagh, on the northern side of the Irish border.

The businessman's multibillion-euro empire collapsed over the last two years on the back of massive stock market gambles on the share price of the Anglo-Irish bank.

The 65-year-old has recently been hit with two separate judgments of €1.74bn and €416m by the Commercial Court in Dublin over loans from the lender.

IBRC argues that his true base is in the Irish Republic and contests that earlier this year he moved his business dealings to an office on an industrial estate in Derrylin, Co Fermanagh, in Northern Ireland.

The bank said it was kept in the dark over the new office and argues that, while that was Mr Quinn's right, it contravenes European directives that a centre of main interest must be ascertainable to third parties, including creditors.

The bank's lawyer, Gabriel Moss, today repeated his claim that the lease for the office was "manufactured" and "backdated".

"On the balance of probability, that is the most probable," said Mr Moss.

Mr Woodhouse, the bank's group head of specialised management since January 2010, recounted how the bank found out that office equipment was being taken to the Belturbet factory.

He said the bank commissioned a security company to check on the disused site.

"I asked them to observe this tyre factory, if they could find it, and report back to me," said Mr Woodhouse.

"The disused factory was being fitted out as an office.

"This satisfied me that there was indeed something going on there."

The court heard that Mr Quinn denied any business dealings at the site.

Under questioning from Mark Orr QC, representing Mr Quinn, Mr Woodhouse denied the bank had run a surveillance operation on the businessman.

Mr Orr said Mr Quinn and his family were well known for their close links to Fermanagh GAA, and for their long-standing family ties to the county.

Mr Woodhouse said of the Quinns' Fermanagh GAA connections, that he knew Mr Quinn's brother, Peter, was a former president of the Association.

He was questioned on the extent of his knowledge that Quinn family members, including Sean Quinn, played football in the county and supported the GAA in Fermanagh.

Mr Woodhouse said: "I understand him to have been generous in previous years."

Mr Quinn's lawyer also indicated that the local community were aware of the new office Mr Quinn said he opened in Derrylin.

But Mr Woodhouse said he knew nothing of the industrial estate office.

And when pressed on his knowledge of Mr Quinn's movements, the bank official added: "I wasn't looking under every stone in every location possible."

He accepted that Mr Quinn's pensions were UK-based.

Mr Orr also told the judge, Mr Justice Donal Deeny, that Mr Quinn's only National Insurance number is in the UK.

The bank's representative also faced questions on how Mr Quinn's former business headquarters were taken over by the receiver.

Mr Woodhouse denied there was any significance to the timing of the takeover of the Quinn Group headquarters, which came on the day Mr Quinn was called to a meeting with the bank in Dublin.

Mr Orr said the sudden seizing of the building was unnecessary.

He told the court Mr Quinn cannot now access documents.

But Mr Woodhouse defended the tactics: "We are owed collectively an obscene amount of money.

"It was necessary."

He also said Mr Quinn was to be in Dublin the same day delivering petitions with 90,000 signatures protesting at the moves against his empire.

Mr Woodhouse said of the new office Mr Quinn said he opened in Derrylin: "We have no knowledge of that building.

"We have no individuals following Mr Quinn.

"I don't know where he has been."

Mr Orr, responding to the fact that Mr Quinn holds an Irish passport, told Mr Woodhouse: "It is an EU passport which every person born on the island of Ireland, the 32 counties of Ireland, is entitled to."

Mr Woodhouse catalogued documents, relating to the family business, which originated in the Irish Republic.

He said of the dealings "the family is Irish" and the proper place for bankruptcy "is in the Republic of Ireland".

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