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Tiger icon twins brought down to earth with a bang

IT isn't very far from the august surroundings of the Four Courts or their usual stamping ground of Residence, but just how far they had fallen could be felt in the dismal air of the Green Room of the Harcourt Hotel at 9am last Thursday.

It was there that the Stokes twins faced the third and final humiliation as their last company standing went into liquidation almost unnoticed but for a small group of people who have no hope of getting the millions it owes.

The previous day one of the busiest and most respected judges on the bench, Peter Kelly, had shredded the reputation of the brothers Stokes, Simon and Christian. Their behaviour was "delinquent" and they had been "thieving" from their staff and the Revenue Commissioners to stay in business.

To lose one business might seem careless, but to lose three in such quick succession, leaving the Revenue Commissioners owed large debts and some very awkward questions about their stewardship was not only a misfortune, it was a disaster for the business reputation of the 34-year-old twins who had for some years been poster boys for the Irish boom.

With their posh south-Dublin addresses, their up-market club Residence, the Ferrari once owned by David Beckham and their trendy good looks they were a couple of lads who made it good. They played golf in Carton House and Powerscourt and were fixtures at most of the important social gatherings around Dublin.

But now the rumours that had been swirling around the drawing rooms of Dublin for the past few months about their impending disaster became a dreadful reality.

All that glamour was stripped away as they sat facing a row of empty chairs in the upstairs room of the Harcourt hotel, just hours after their traumatic time in the Commercial Court.

This was a no-frills experience, a harsh dose of reality which seemed to strike home even more forcefully when they had to leave the meeting for a whispered confab with their solicitor.

Their company, Auldcarn, the third leg of what once looked like a business empire, was about to go into liquidation.

The company ran the Clarendon Inn in Dublin for some time. In what seemed like a stroke of genius, they sold the building to Bernard McNamara for €2.7m and then rented it back. They still owe him €550,000 according to the statement of affairs.

They moved on several years ago and the Clarendon is now run by Niall Lawless, who has no connection to the Stokes or their business affairs.

The creditors meeting was presented with a statement of affairs which was quite short. Its total debts came to €2,337,497 including €957,998 owed to the Revenue Commissioners in corporation tax and a further €8,149 in PAYE and PRSI.

"What is obvious about this document," said one of the creditors holding it up as if it gave off a rank smell, "is that there is a lot of money outstanding -- and no assets."

Noel Walls of the insolvency unit of the Revenue Commissioners put liquidator Jim Looby in charge of the latest debacle to befall the brothers.

"Have you anything to say," they were asked by a reporter as they rushed from the room. "Jaysus, no," replied one of the Stokes twins with a smile.

The fascinating part is that although Auldcarn hasn't traded for several years, it owes the Revenue Commissioners almost €1m. The point being that if the Revenue was owed this much for several years, how did it allow the brothers Stokes to run up a bill of more than €1.2m in unpaid PAYE and PRSI in Missford Ltd, the company which ran Residence and which went into receivership the previous evening.

"We go after all the debts we are owed," said Mr Walls.

This sentiment was echoed by another well-known Dublin publican last week -- he said he was pursued and threatened with court action for a fraction of what Auldcarn and Missford now owe the Revenue.

"Because there are no assets, my job is to investigate the background to the company and do an explanatory report for the director of corporate enforcement," said the liquidator of Auldcarn Jim Looby.

Another venture run by Simon and Christian Stokes, Mayfair Properties, was also put into liquidation last week. It runs Bang cafe, which is currently closed.

It has been a rollercoaster ride for the Stokes twins -- sons of Jeff Stokes who runs the Unicorn restaurant in Dublin and Pia Bang, a well-known businesswoman who has been running shops in Dublin since she came here from Denmark as a teenager.

And it isn't only around St Stephen's Green that the ripples are being felt. Down at the Financial Services Centre there is an veil of silence around Zurich Bank, which lent €2.3m funding the Stokes brothers' extravagant private members' on St Stephen's Green, in a building for which their landlord Johnny Ronan was paid about €300,000 a year in rent.

Sunday Independent