Friday 22 November 2019

'Torrid rows' and double-crosses: it's another episode of Quinnasty

Tom Lyons on how incredible fresh evidence ratcheted up tension in the Sean Quinn Jnr legal drama

IT was Thursday, July 12, 2007, when Sean Quinn Jnr confidently drove his golf ball down the fairway of the lush K Club golfing resort. Paired with him for the round at the political party fundraiser was the Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, who was happy to chat amiably with the son of Ireland's then richest man.

Quinn Jnr, a decent golfer who at the time owned the prestigious Belfry, four-times home of the Ryder Cup, was more than a match for Kenny.

The Star newspaper described the game as "Enda putts on a brave face" as the Mayoman had just lost the election to Bertie Ahern.

Quinn Jnr can be seen smiling in the background, enjoying the day.

For Kenny, what politician wouldn't want to associate with the son of a multibillionaire who employed thousands of people along the Border?

Fast-forward five years and Quinn Jnr is a long way from playing golf with future taoisigh.

Instead last week he spent several days being ferried between his prison cell in Mountjoy and the Supreme Court where he is currently appealing his three-month sentence for contempt of court.

Over three days last week the Supreme Court heard incredible new evidence, from "torrid rows," between the Quinns and mysterious Ukrainian businessmen, to "deliberately smashed" computers in the offices of one their Russian companies.

The court also heard of employment contracts with clauses entitling Quinn family members to payments of up to €7.5m if they were the subjects of an "assassination attempt" and €36m each if they were fired.

It was extraordinary new evidence that was described by counsel for IBRC, formerly Anglo Irish Bank, as "outrageous", "exceptional" and "so undermining of the rule of law and the administration of justice that it is without parallel".

This was rebutted by counsel for Quinn Jnr, who argued any new evidence from Russia or the Ukraine was "irrelevant" to what the court had to decide on -- was Judge Elizabeth Dunne right to jail Quinn Jnr for contempt of court on July 20 based on the evidence she had in front of her at the time?

Quinn Jnr's counsel argued that the reason he was found in contempt of court related to his involvement in sanctioning a $500,000 payment to Larrisa Puga, their general director in the Ukraine, just before the bank was due to take over its valuable Ukrainian shopping mall. It was this action -- and not new allegations -- they told the Supreme Court that was at the heart of Quinn Jnr's appeal to be released.

As the argument went back and forth Mr Justice Donal O'Donnell summed up by saying that Quinn Jnr appeared to be arguing that his family had "double-crossed" IBRC by asset stripping its $430m international property portfolio only to be in turn betrayed by the very lawyers and advisers they had hired.

This second "double-cross," made it impossible, he said, according to Quinn Jnr's argument to reverse the schemes he had helped set in train.

An affidavit submitted by Richard Woodhouse, IBRC's head of specialised asset management, provided more information.

Woodhouse said a video of Quinn Jnr and his cousin Peter Darragh Quinn, 'Petey', meeting with Ukrainian businessmen and Puga "establishes [Quinn Jnr's] critical role in stripping IPG (International Property Group) assets in Ukraine".

The video showed both sides arguing over money and Petey Quinn admitting he would be prepared to lie in order to help the family fight off the taxpayer-owned bank.

Quinn Jnr's counsel took a different slant on the video -- arguing the video made clear that relationships between the Quinn family and the Ukrainians were "torrid," and this in fact supported the family's position that both sides had fallen out irrevocably making it impossible for them to reverse what they had done.

Other evidence advanced by IBRC also sought to dismantle Quinn Jnr's previous evidence to the High Court that led to this jailing.

The bank claimed that when its representatives in Russia finally gained access to the Quinn company's office in Moscow they found company documents and computers had gone missing and a server had been smashed.

Nonetheless the bank produced evidence that had been retrieved by computer experts that referred to conversations with Quinn Jnr as recently as March 19, 2012, as well as an email from Petey (who has admitted playing a central role in moving assets away from the bank) telling the family's Russian employees in February 2012 that they were to contact Quinn Jnr from then on -- as he wanted out ahead of their contempt hearing in front of Judge Dunne.

Woodhouse also stated in his affidavit that the records showed that Quinn Jnr visited Kiev in Ukraine eight times between August 20, 2011, and January 21, 2012, twice more than Quinn Jnr had previously admitted in court.

Woodhouse described Quinn Jnr as the "lead decision-maker," in relation to the family's Russian assets and this took place "after the grant of the injunction", preventing the family from interfering with these assets.

The new evidence was designed to argue that Quinn Jnr was a much more central figure in the asset-stripping scheme that led to his jailing for contempt of court than was previously thought. It proved IBRC's counsel claim that his statements that he was no longer involved in running the business were "utterly false".

Paul Gallagher, senior counsel for the IBRC, said the Quinns deserved little sympathy as they hadn't done enough to help IBRC get control of their property assets. "The position of the Quinns is that [the money] is all gone now, you can do your worst, send us to jail, but it's all gone," he said.

As the argument unfolded Quinn Jnr sat beside his wife Karen Woods, a 33-year-old from Castleknock, Dublin, listening. The newlyweds exchanged brief words in between pauses in the action.

Less than six months married, both will meet again on Saturday for an hour or so during their weekly Mountjoy visit.

They will then have to wait for next Wednesday to see each other again in the Supreme Court when their case continues after being adjourned last Thursday. This meeting too will be brief with little time for more than a quick exchange of words.

The Supreme Court will have a difficult call to make in the ever more complicated saga of the Quinn family which is without precedent in Irish legal history.

The Quinns have made a focused argument seeking to stick to point of laws and rule out from consideration the extraordinary new evidence produced by the determined IBRC. Quinn Jnr, whatever happens, will not be jailed forever.

It is still a hard call to determine when Sean Jnr and Karen will be reunited again outside the walls of court or prison.

The likelihood of Sean Jnr and Enda ever pairing up on the greens of the K Club, however, is certainly zero.

Sunday Independent

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