Tuesday 23 January 2018

Judge tries to force former tycoon's hand by jailing son

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

MOMENTS before she sentenced Sean Quinn Jnr and his cousin Peter Quinn to jail for three months, lawyers for the Quinns implored Judge Elizabeth Dunne not to jail the two young men to force the hand of Sean Quinn Snr.

Senior Counsel Brian O'Moore, representing the three Quinns, argued that the former Anglo Irish Bank's request to jail the two cousins -- but spare Sean Quinn Snr -- was a "medieval tactic" designed to put pressure on the "chieftain".

The image of the chieftain's son being forced to suffer for his father's sins is an ancient and emotive one.

But Judge Dunne ruled that the suffering son solution may well be a practical one, too.

The decision by the High Court judge to keep Sean Quinn Snr out of jail is a clever and considered one.

All three men were found guilty over court orders not to put up to €500m worth of foreign properties beyond the reach of the former Anglo Irish Bank.

All three, in theory, should have been jailed. But Sean Quinn Snr has been spared a spell behind bars, for now, despite being identified as the mastermind of the audacious asset-stripping scheme.

It is ironic that, of all the Quinns, Mr Quinn Snr was most prepared to face prison -- he told the Irish Independent on Thursday night that there could be no fate worse than that already inflicted on him by Anglo, now known as the IBRC.


Mr O'Moore complained that by keeping Mr Quinn Snr out of jail, while incarcerating his son and nephew, the IBRC was asking the court to approve an age-old tactic -- exploiting a "chieftain's" love for his son -- to put pressure on Mr Quinn Snr to comply with court orders.

This, of course, is exactly what the bank wants, but will the "medieval" tactic work?

The martyrdom of Mr Quinn Snr is no match to the IBRC -- and by extension the Irish Exchequer -- recovering a missing €500m and gaining access to the lucrative annual rent from the Quinns' international property jewels.

Yesterday, Judge Dunne issued a principled and practical solution to the bank's dilemma, navigating the ad hoc waters of Ireland's rarely used but extraordinarily powerful contempt of court regime.

She said in her ruling that she was trying to ensure that court orders not to interfere with the international property portfolio -- and separate orders to reverse the asset stripping -- were obeyed.

And she stated that jail was not just a punishment for contempt, it was also designed to ensure compliance.

Prison, she said, in cases involving civil contempt, was almost always a last resort. But where there is an "outrageous disregard" of court orders, jail is an option, as Sean Quinn Jnr and Peter Quinn now know.

What if Sean Quinn Snr does not comply with the bank? If he does not comply, he could be jailed if he does not do the bank's bidding.

But all three have been offered the chance of liberty if they purge their contempt.

Far from being "medieval", the judge said her ruling could serve as a practical way to ensure compliance.

It remains to be seen if the chieftain will crack and comply.

Irish Independent

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