Saturday 26 May 2018

A tale of mistrust and disgust at the heart of a very Irish battle

Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

THOSE who invested with 'Midas Man' Derek Quinlan should, for the sake of their blood pressure, read 'Vanity Fair's' essay in instalments.

The opening anecdote of "To Capture Claridges" places Quinlan, a former tax inspector, in a private Mayfair Club regaling about his time spent "among the richest people on the planet".

Before the first paragraphs are spent, we learn that Quinlan – who is being bankrolled by Britain's Barclay twins – is living in luxury, skiing in Saint-Moritz, drinking at Annabel's and cruising London in a Range Rover worth more than $100,000.

The twins also "effectively pay" for his house and children's education, says the US magazine.

Dana Vachon, the journalist who interviews Quinlan, says he discusses the financial collapse "as if it were but a geo-economically unfortunate golf outing", a phrase that will make the hollow men in the law library and elsewhere who got stung by their investments with Quinlan that little bit more hollow.

Of his home country, Quinlan simply says: "I don't see myself living there again."

Quinlan has steadfastly avoided any public commentary on his spectacular rise and fall from a teenager yearning to be an eye surgeon to the blinding collapse of his private equity adventure.

But he rolls out the jaw-dropping tales and waves his pale blue Hermes handkerchief to reveal a fascination for blindness and big deals.

He was at the peak of his prowess in 2004 when he bought four of London's trophy asset hotels, the Savoy Group of hotels, which included Claridges, described as "the glittering mainstay of the British establishment".

The reverse colonisation of key British landmarks, led by Quinlan, was funded through Coroin, a partnership that originally included 'Riverdance' creators Moya Doherty and John McColgan (10pc), Dublin stockbroker Kyran McLaughlin (5pc) and the billionaire Green family from Britain (22pc).

Quinlan secured 32pc of Coroin, a stake matched by Paddy McKillen, the elusive, blue-chip property investor from Belfast.

Had he not been "an asshole" and partial to that human frailty, greed, McKillen tells 'Vanity Fair' that he would never have agreed to the invitation from Quinlan who – he claims – betrayed him "in a Judas moment".

"Quinlan was only interested in red wine and parties," said McKillen, only for Quinlan to reply: "Paddy's view on me says more about Paddy than me."

The journey from guarded trust to mutual disgust between the two Irish tycoons has played out on private islands, a 282-foot yacht off Cannes as well as courtrooms in London and Dublin, with cameo roles for NAMA, Ireland's toxic bank.

The battle for control of Coroin is as bitter as it is complex.

But at heart it boils down to two tycoons floored, like so many others, by the global economic crisis, their fates sealed by the closing in on their loans by NAMA.

Barclays wanted control of Coroin, and Quinlan, distressed by debt, became their point of entry to seize the Crown.

Any notion that the Barclays, who "picked the Coroin investors off one by one", would enjoy a fruitful relationship with McKillen was flattened when he met Frederick Barclay at the Ritz Hotel in London four years ago.

The elder property guru claimed McKillen, an impeccable dresser, arrived in an untucked shirt – McKillen says he was just missing a tie.

The dress code violation led to a smackdown for McKillen by Barclay, who reportedly said: "Sit down. You're lucky you're coming to meet me or you wouldn't have got into this hotel."

The encounter infuriated McKillen.

Gerry Murphy, an associate of Quinlan, told 'Vanity Fair' that McKillen "pathologically hated" the Barclays.

McKillen was almost outmanoeuvred by the twins, who bought the overseas trust that owned the Greens' shareholding.

They then bought up Quinlan's debts, rendering him their voting serf on the board of Coroin.

But they could not exterminate McKillen, who fought off NAMA in the Supreme Court and out-scooped the Barclays when US private equity firm Colony Capital lent him the money he needed to repay his loans before the twins could buy them.

Having spent more than £400m (€500m) on the hotels, the Barclays' foray into the heart of a very Irish battle has cost them dear.

It could cost them even more if Quinlan enters bankruptcy – leaving his shares open to be sold on a preferential basis to McKillen.

If Quinlan's position has become weaker, McKillen's has arguably become stronger.

The Claridge's war has reached a stalemate. But whoever emerges victorious, the imprint of these enigmatic Irishmen will leave an indelible mark on a truly fascinating battlefield.

Irish Independent

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