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Saturday 25 November 2017

Independent expert on Siteserv sale says it 'represented best deal for taxpayer'

Finance Minister Michael Noonan
Finance Minister Michael Noonan

John Downing and Sam Griffin

The independent expert who advised the IBRC on the sale of Siteserv has defended the decision to sell the company and said it represented the best deal for the taxpayer.

Walter Hobbs dismissed reports the state lost €100m on the deal saying the money was already gone and he was trying to “rescue” the last €50m.

He said the country stood to lose out on making any money back on the company if it had not sold it to a company owned by businessman Denis O’Brien in 2012.

Earlier this evening, Minister Michael Noonan announced a special review of the €45m Siteserv sale and other “big transactions” handled by IRBC bank.

The review is to be carried out by a senior accountant/liquidator who is well acquainted with the issues involved.

Well-placed sources suggested that Kieran Wallace of KPMG accountants – who was special liquidator of the IRBC – is to be asked to undertake the task.

The move by Mr Noonan is a clear effort to contain a three-day controversy which could pose problems for government.

The government has come under increasing pressure over the controversy surrounding the 2012 sale of Siteserv by IBRC for €45m while €100m was written off by the State.

However, speaking on Prime Time tonight, Mr Hobbs defended the sale.

Mr Hobbs said he said he was hired in the summer of 2011 to “supervise the Siteserv process”.

He said he was contacted by IBRC to oversee the sale. He said they wanted someone “independent who knew what was going and could confirm and recommend everything that was being done was the correct thing”.

He said reports that the deal led to the loss of €100m were inaccurate and that it was a case of trying to get any money back at all form the troubled company.

“When I started in 2011 the €100m was well gone. The bank was for in €150m. It was a case of could they rescue the last €50m. The €100m was gone,” he said.

He added that it was also inaccurate to say the highest bidder had not won the sale process.

“We embarked on a very comprehensive process. The sale team comprised two senior executives from the company, tow non exec board members, a senior team from KPMG corporate finance, a senior team form Davy and myself,” he said.

He said “multiple parties” were identified and by February 2012 second round bidders were being considered at which stage the bid from the Millington was the highest bid.

He said it also offered the most straightforward sale unlike other bidders which were lower and “with multiple terms and conditions”.

He also said there were time constraints on selling the company.

Responding to concerns that were aired by the department of finance about the deal, he said no on from the department ever contacted him.

He also defended the decision to allow shareholders receive a €5m payment from the deal explain the deal risked collapse if the shareholders had not supported the sale.

Earlier, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said that the Government has nothing to hide in relation to the sale of Siteserv.

Read more: Government 'has nothing to hide' over sale of Siteserv

The Taoiseach said that the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) is “correct” in his confirmation this morning that his office does not have the power to investigate the sale of Siteserv, and that the government is “now looking at how can this be made to happen”.

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