Friday 20 April 2018

Vilified developers hit back at 'plain old begrudgery'

Property magnates whose loans have been transferred to Nama say it is no picnic for them, writes Eamon Keane

'I GO to the psychiatrist every month. It's gas. We just look at each other. He writes a few notes. The wife will say she was worried about my mental health and so had to transfer the assets into her name."

Jack (not his real name) is a property developer in his late-40s. He is married with a couple of sons. He is explaining to me how he will avoid the clutches of Nama as it seeks to recover millions in loans he now owes them.

"You in the media need to understand that Nama is no picnic for developers. My wife and kids are stressed out. I'm stronger than they are. They can't handle it. Many people have good businesses that Nama are killing off."

But is this just the poor mouth from people who just don't want to pay up?

Last October, the Sunday Independent revealed how some of the 30 property barons who owe €27bn to Nama were transferring assets to their wives. And here's the rub. You're paying for it. For every euro that's not recovered, you will pick up the tab.

But wait a minute. Didn't Minister Brian Lenihan and Brendan McDonagh of Nama promise you that developers would be pursued to the ends of the Earth, if not up every tree in north Dublin?

To date, Nama has taken in 11,000 loans from 850 borrowers. They have sold €1.6bn of property in assets held by borrowers in order to pay off debts. However, just three out of the 850 developers "are in the process of reversing" transfers of assets to their wives, according to Nama head Frank Daly. Well that's sorted then. We can all sleep easier this Christmas as the three unwise men part with their diamonds and SUVs under the stars.

Simon Kelly is the one-time poster boy for the Celtic Tiger boom. Son of developer Paddy Kelly, he was worth €300m but is now officially broke. He echoes Jack's world view of Nama.

"I've seen a Nama business plan for a mid-tier developer. He has offered to work off the loans over 10 years. The family don't live the jet-set lifestyle. This Nama plan will crucify them. He did transfer the assets to his wife but that was 25 years ago. She is now going to be forced to sell her home at the end of the business plan whether it works or not.''

Simon is upset at the media coverage over these spousal asset transfers. "Irish people need to realise that this is nothing new. You take doctors and barristers who have unlimited liability, they are doing this for years. I did it with my wife. She bought the property so they couldn't take our home."

But wouldn't some of those who lost fortunes in Simon and his father Paddy Kelly's property investment company Red Quartz be annoyed at this apparent attempt to keep assets out of the reach of Nama?

"A lot of this is down to the media. They personalise it and vilify one person. Any person will defend their home. The Irish Times ran a piece this Christmas week on my Dad's car being 'seized' by Nama. It wasn't 'seized'. We were in touch them and they agreed to collect it. But the media like to do this. Look at the salary levels in The Irish Times, people on over €300,000. Why don't they write about that?"

Simon has a clear message for the Irish people: "People in Ireland are lazy. In the boom, they made money off building houses. It is much harder to build a business. We need to dispel the property myth -- borrowing money off banks is not a business."

Is he right? Are we stuck on blaming builders? Jack the property developer who attends the psychiatrist thinks we need to look at the banks. ''Eamon, ask me about the banks -- who is accountable there? They would fly us over to Europe, they couldn't throw enough money at us. Now I see the f**kers and some of them are working for Nama. Give me a break. Go and check that story out. How many Anglo or AIB people are working in Nama?"

So how does the broken developer survive these days? Simon Kelly says it is not easy.

"I jack up arrears. Nobody wants you here in Ireland anymore. It's like Captain Boycott and the days of the Land League. Many will have to leave -- but at least there are opportunities now abroad. The economic collapse was not constructed by 10 people. We need to avoid the blame culture. You know what Ireland is like, plain old begrudgery. If we could all be poor together, we would be happy."

Many will not be reassured by Simon's picture of the haunted, starving developer. What about claims that his father Paddy Kelly is holidaying out in Hawaii?

"Paddy is not in Hawaii. He has been dragged through the courts and lost his house and his car."

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, developer Jack tells me he will fight on as Nama seeks to secure orders against him.

"They are after me and my kids. I will fight the bastards. I've transferred some stuff into the wife's name. They will come after me -- but I'm ready. You have to be ready and hold your nerve. I put another house in one of the kid's names. The key is cash flow. I have other income they don't know about. They can't get everything. F**k it, I gave a lot of people work. I'm entitled to a life.''

Jack's New Year's appointment with his psychiatrist is already pencilled in.

Eamon Keane blogs at twitter@eamonbkeane

Sunday Independent

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