THE global hunt for what's left of Sean Quinn's fortune has switched to a tax haven chain of tropical islands in the South Pacific.
Financial investigators hired by the former Anglo Irish Bank were dispatched to Vanuatu last week, in what could prove to be a "critical stage" in its efforts to track down the fallen tycoon's foreign assets.
The archipelago of islands north of Fiji offers strict secrecy and no taxes for investors to put their "surplus funds".
The team of investigators, led by a former Irish detective, have been working around the clock to establish whether the former tycoon concealed funds before the bank moved in to recover outstanding loans of €2.8bn debt.
It was alleged that Sean Quinn, his son Sean Junior and his nephew Peter conspired to put €455m -- tied up in the family's overseas property portfolio -- out of reach, rather than repay the bank. Anglo, now known as Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC), has been engaged in more than 40 legal actions across the world in an attempt to trace the assets.
A source close to the financial investigation says their inquiries have now reached a "critical" stage.
The investigation is headed by Risk Management International, a private investigation firm, in conjunction with the Kroll agency in London.
The team was in Australia and New Zealand last week, and it is believed the link to Vanuatu was unearthed during investigations in Sydney and Melbourne.
A source close to the investigation told the Sunday Independent that RMI and Kroll are working around the clock to track down the Quinn assets that are now owed to the taxpayer. "We have reached a critical stage," the source said. "There are tens of millions in cash missing."
The former detective sergeant heading up the investigation is also a former member of Ireland's Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and is believed to have led a number of successful investigations into corporate fraud and irregularities.
Investigators have also returned to Ukraine in recent weeks in an attempt to speak to Larisa Yanez Puga, the former manager of a Kiev shopping centre once owned by the Quinn family. She was named in court for signing documents that effectively transferred the claim to ownership of the $78m (€63.4m) centre to an offshore company.
The family are under increasing pressure to disclose their assets, following a damning High Court judgement that found Sean Quinn, his son, Sean Jnr, and his nephew, Peter, guilty of contempt of court for ignoring court orders to stop the asset stripping.
Last weekend, secret film footage at a meeting in Kiev disclosed Sean Jnr talking about moving $100,000 into Ireland undetected, and Peter Quinn saying that he was prepared to lie in court.
On foot of the extraordinary footage, IBRC asked the High Court to appoint receivers over the worldwide assets of members of the Quinn family, because it believes they cannot be trusted to comply with court orders. Quinn, whose €4bn business empire collapsed after a disastrous share gamble on the now-nationalised Anglo Irish Bank, along with his family, is being pursued for debts of €2.8bn.
IBRC declined to comment.