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Archive for February, 2013

We’ve known about NAMA’s pursuit of Dublin businessman and pub-owner David Cullen for some months. There have been at least two preliminary hearings in the High Court on NAMA’s application for a €29m judgment against the businessman whose loans transferred to the Agency. David is now resident in Notting Hill in London and is pursuing a bankruptcy application there, though it should be noted that he has not yet been declared bankrupt.

Yesterday, the matter returned to the High Court, presumably the Commercial Court division after the case was transferred there in January 2013, where it seems that David advanced two arguments which you might have thought were pretty flimsy but which the redoubtable Mr Justice Peter Kelly thought sufficiently arguable that he has reserved judgment in the case. Previously, he was quite dismissive of David Cullen, deploying his sardonic style when he told him just because David had “gone off to live in England” that did not mean the court had no jurisdiction to deal with the NAMA application.

But yesterday,  David through his barrister, Martin Hayden SC, argued that (1) National Asset Loan Management Limited was not the correct plaintiff because David’s loans had been transferred to NAMA, not its subsidiaries and (2) that David’s loans were not eligible loans for acquisition by NAMA.

I would have expected Judge Kelly to send David off with a flea in his ear, but no, judgment has been reserve, no doubt, much to NAMA’s chagrin.

If Judge Kelly holds that David has raised arguable defences to NAMA’s claim for judgment, then that doesn’t of course mean that David will win during a full hearing, but it does raise doubts. And given that NAMA has pursued most of its claims in the guise of National Asset Loan Management Limited, this could prove costly for NAMA if the Judge were to eventally hold that NAMA has to be the plaintiff, not one of its group companies.  The Irish Times report doesn’t elaborate on the second defence about the “eligibility” so that too may be problematic for NAMA in future.

A case to keep an eye on, though of course, Judge Kelly may ultimately dismiss both defences.

UPDATE: 22nd March, 2013. RTE reports that NAMA has finally obtained a judgment of €29m against David Cullen, as Judge Peter Kelly rejected the arguments put forward by the publican and businessman who is now resident in Notting Hill in London. The Judge refused to place a stay on the judgment and NAMA had pressed for the judgment now in advance of a UK bankruptcy hearing on 9th April 2013.  Judge Kelly rejected the defence that the loans in question were not “eligible” loans under the definition in the NAMA Act, and it seems the Judge also dismissed the defence that the action was taken by a NAMA operating unit, and not NAMA itself.

UPDATE: 5th April, 2013. The judgment in the case is now available. Judge Kelly refrains from deploying what can be an  acerbic wit in rubbishing David Cullen’s claims. The closest he comes to it is when he states “indeed, it is interesting to note that the defendant’s complaint concerning the plaintiff’s alleged failure to facilitate a proposal for the refinancing or redeeming of the facilities was first made by him at the same time as he was commencing bankruptcy proceedings in the United Kingdom.”  Judge Kelly simply and methodically deals with all of the advanced defences and ultimately dismisses them and grants judgment to NAMA for €29,129,405.90. Peter Malbasha, an asset recovery manager from NAMA features in the case and appears to acquit himself quite well in discharging his duties.

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This morning has seen the publication of the Central Statistics Office (CSO) residential property price indices for Ireland for January 2013. Here’s the summary showing the indices

  • at their peak (various months in 2007 depending on type of property and location)
  • the NAMA valuation date (November 2009)
  • 12 months ago (January 2012)
  • the start of this year (end December 2012)
  • last month (December 2012)
  • this month (January 2013)

CSORPPIJan2013

The CSO’s indices are Ireland’s premier indices for mortgage-based residential property transactions. The CSO analyses mortgage transactions at nine financial institutions : Ulster Bank, Allied Irish Banks, Bank of Ireland, ICS Building Society (part of the Bank of Ireland group), the Educational Building Society, Permanent TSB, Belgian-owned KBC, Danish-owned National Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society. The indices are hedonic in the sense it firstly groups transactions on a like-for-like basis (location, property type, floor area, number of bedrooms, new or old and first-time buyer or not) and then assigns weightings to each group dependent on their value to the total value of all transactions. The indices are averages of three-month rolling transactions.

Cash transactions: With the launch of the property price register at the end of September 2012, the continuing relevance of a mortgage-only index from the CSO may be short-lived. Already DAFT.ie has begun the work to produce hedonic indices based on all the transactions made available by the Property Services Regulatory Authority, transactions dating back to January 2010. Daft.ie now produces an index based upon the Property Price Register, and as that Register gets more data, you can expect the Daft.ie to overtake the CSO’s own index.

As for the key questions:

How much does property now cost in Ireland? The CSO deliberately doesn’t produce average prices. The former PTSB/ESRI index did, and claimed the average price of a property nationally hit the peak in February 2007 at €313,998, in Dublin in April 2007 at €431,016 and outside Dublin in January 2007 at €267,987. If, and it is a big “if”, you were to take PTSB/ESRI prices as sound and comparable to prices captured by the CSO series, then these would be the average prices today:

Nationally, €158,323 (last month €159,291, peak €313,998)

In Dublin, €190,998 (last month €190,035, peak €431,016)

Outside Dublin, €142,092 (last month €144,401, peak €267,987)

I don’t think the CSO would be happy with this approach but it seems to me that the PTSB/ESRI series, as represented by its historical indices, closely correlates with the performance of the CSO indices.

 

What’s surprising about the latest release? The jury was out as to whether the withdrawal of tax relief on mortgages for first time buyers at the end of December 2012 would reduce demand and prices, and although it will still take some months to form a meaningful assessment, the indications are that the withdrawal has generally led to price declines. However in Dublin in January, 2013, prices actually rose and apartment prices rose by 3.3% in Dublin and houses rose to 0.3% and apartments nationally rose 2.6% in the month.

Are prices still falling? Difficult to say, but it after two months of consecutive declines, you at least have pause for thought. We have a decline in January of 0.6% following the December of 0.5% that follows six months of relative stability. There was an increase of 1.1% in November, a decline of  0.6% in October and increases of 0.9% in September 2012 following a 0.5% increase in August 2012 and 0.2% in July and a decline of 1.1% in June, an increase of 0.2% in  May following a decline of 1.1% in April 2012, it was flat in March 2012 which followed a 2.2% decline in February 2012, 1.9% monthly decline in January 2012, 1.7% decline in December 2011, 1.5% decline in November  2011, 2.2% decline in October 2011, 1.5% decline in September 2011 and 1.6% decline in August 2011.

How far off the peak are we? Nationally 49.9% (50.5% in real terms as we have had inflation of just 1.2% between February 2007 and January 2013). Interestingly, as revealed here, Northern Ireland is some 56.3% from peak in nominal terms and 63.2% off peak in real terms. Are forbearance measures by mortgage lenders, a draconian bankruptcy regime and NAMA’s (in)actions distorting the market? Or are cash transactions which are not captured by the CSO index so significant today that if they were captured, the decline in the Republic would be even greater?

How much further will prices drop? Indeed, will prices continue to drop at all? Who knows, I would say the general consensus is that prices will continue to drop. This is what I believe to be a comprehensive list of forecasts and projections for Irish residential property [house price projections in Ireland are contentious for obvious reasons and the following is understood to be a comprehensive list of projections but please drop me a line if you think there are any omissions – note January 2013 Fitch and S&P being inserted shortly].

What does this morning’s news mean for NAMA? The CSO index is used to calculate the NWL Index shown at the top of this page which aims to provide a composite reflection of price movements in NAMA’s key markets since 30th November 2009, the NAMA valuation date. Residential prices in Ireland are now down 30.4% from November, 2009.  The latest results from the CSO bring the index to 779 (28.4%) meaning that NAMA will need see a blended average increase of 28.4% in its various property markets to break even at a gross profit level.

The CSO index is a monthly residential property price index calculated from mortgage-based transactions. The main other index is that produced by Daft.ie based on the Property Price Register. There are four other residential price surveys, based on advertised asking prices or agent valuations (see below, details here). In addition Phil Hogan’s Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government produces an index based on mortgage transactions, six months after the period end to which the transactions relate, and which is not hedonically analysed – it is next to useless, and as some might say is a reflection of Minister Hogan, the Department will continue to produce these indices at a “marginal cost”.

 

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One of the questions that arose after the abrupt departure of the CEO of Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, Mike Aynsley three weeks ago, was whether he was precluded from acting for potential buyers of IBRC assets, or indeed if Mike was free to pen his memoirs of his hectic time at the helm of first Anglo, and then IBRC, after Anglo was merged with Irish Nationwide Building Society. In the Dail this week, we got some answers.

It seems that although Mike was subject to confidentiality restraints whilst at IBRC, it will only be the Ethics in Public Office Acts and  “common law” which restrains him now that he has been set free. You are unlikely to find many cases coming before Irish courts under either of these headings, but these restraints are supposed to stop him using confidential information to the detriment of IBRC and to stop him being conferred with an unfair advantage in a new appointment, by virtue of for example, access to official information he previously enjoyed.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan was responding to parliamentary questions from the Sinn Fein finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty. Although Minister Noonan was directly asked if Mike was precluded from advising potential buyers of IBRC assets, there was no direct response.

There would appear to be no restraint on Mike from publishing his memoirs of his time whilst at Anglo and IBRC, as long as he didn’t use confidential information. It remains unclear if Mike can advise buyers of IBRC assets in a way which is not to the detriment of IBRC, although the tenor of the Minister’s response is that if he uses privileged information to gain any personal advantage, he will be in breach of the provisions of the Ethics in Public Office Acts, presumably the main Act being the 1995 Act here.

The full parliamentary questions and responses are here:

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Finance if he will outline any restrictions on activities of the former chief executive officer of Irish Bank Resolution Corporation during the period of the IBRC liquidation.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Finance if the former chief executive officer of Irish Bank Resolution Corporation is precluded from advising potential buyers of IBRC assets during the period of the IBRC liquidation.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Finance the confidentiality restraints that apply to the former chief executive officer of Irish Bank Resolution Corporation..

Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan: I propose to answer questions 195, 196 and 197 together.

The special liquidators have confirmed that there are restrictive covenants and confidentiality provisions included in the employment contract of the former CEO of IBRC.  The special liquidators have confirmed that the former CEO owes a common law duty of confidentiality that continues following the termination of his employment with IBRC, such that he is restricted from using  confidential information obtained during the course of his employment to the detriment of IBRC

In addition Ethic in Public Office Acts applies to former executives and other office holders in the IBRC including the former CEO. This Act requires that former office holders should act in a way which ensures an unfair advantage would not be conferred in a new appointment, by virtue of for example, access to official information the office holder previously enjoyed.

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It’s not always their fault, but UK outsourcing giant Capita, just has got a way of being at the centre of controversy. There was a flagship blogpost on the company – dubbed “Crapita” by UK satirical magazine Private Eye – when it was selected by NAMA to oversee the management of smaller-value NAMA loans which are still being administered by about 400 staff in the five NAMAed banks. This week, we found out that Capita has so far been paid €299,981.30 to “administer” the approval of 14 loans with an overall value of €1.5m, or an average of €107,000 each, under the SME loan guarantee scheme launched by Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton on 24th October 2012.

Hopefully the performance of contract with Capita will improve as the scheme progresses, it is supposed to be processing 1,875 loans per year or 625 every four months compared with the 14 actually processed since the long-awaited scheme launched. But Capita just has a habit of attracting contracts which make the taxpayer look like a bunch of clowns.

The cost and performance of Capita were revealed in a parliamentary questions tabled by the Sinn Fein finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty to Minister Bruton this week. These are the full questions and responses.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation further to the announcement of the loan guarantee scheme for small and medium enterprises in the Budget 2012 announcements in December 2011, the total amount of fees paid and payable to a company (details supplied) for administering the scheme to date.

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton: Following a competitive tendering process, Capita Asset Services (Ireland) Limited was selected to operate the Credit Guarantee Scheme under the Credit Guarantee Act 2012.

The agreed charges under the terms of the contract are €199,000 plus VAT based on 1,875 loans per year for each of years 1 to 3. There is provision in the contract for revision of costs in years 2 and 3 depending on the uptake of the Scheme.  The cost of the Scheme will be partially offset by receipts from the 2% premium paid by borrowers.

The Scheme went live on the 24th October 2012, and so far a total of €299,981.30 including VAT has been paid to the operator.  This payment includes additional charges in respect of initial set up and implementation costs and charges in respect of training and lender accreditation costs and for the day to day running of the first quarter of the Scheme, for three lenders.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation further to the announcement of the loan guarantee scheme for small and medium enterprises in the Budget 2012 announcements in December 2011, the total amount that has been to date extended to SMEs under the scheme and the number of SMEs to which that total relates.

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton: The Credit Guarantee Scheme is operational since 24th October 2012.  There are currently 14 approved guaranteed loans resulting in €1.5m of additional lending being provided to viable companies as of close of business on 15th February 2013.  As a result of the sanctioned lending it is expected that there will be 113 new jobs created and 19 jobs will be maintained.

The scheme has been designed to address market failure affecting certain SMEs on the margins of commercial lending decisions, who, because of a lack of collateral or because of the sector they operate in, face difficulties in accessing traditional bank credit.

The Department and the Operator are in regular contact with the participating banks to improve take-up of the scheme, however, the Deputy will be aware that the Scheme is demand- led.  Potential borrowers are being advised to contact the participating banks directly.  The Department will of course keep a close eye on developments in respect of the scheme as matters unfold.

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One of the key questions to be left hanging after the emergency liquidation of Irish Bank Resolution Corporation three weeks ago, was the manner in which the bonds that were swapped with the promissory notes would be released onto the open bond market by the Central Bank of Ireland. Minister for Finance Michael Noonan was keen to stress that it was expected the bonds would, in the main, be held for up to 15 years though there were certain relatively small minimum disposals required in the next three years.

The reason this is a key question, is because, if the €25bn of bonds were to be sold onto the open bond market tomorrow, then the State would be faced with an annual interest bill of over 3.5% on the €25bn instead of the 0.75% per annum which is the charge whilst the bonds are kept by the Central Bank and whilst the ECB keeps its main interest rate at 0.75%.

On Tuesday, in the Dail, both the Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein finance spokespersons tackled Minister Noonan about this aspect of the arrangement announced three weeks ago. It is not the first time that they have both sought to clarify the rules that would apply to the Central Bank’s holding of the bonds, but previous questions have been met with a nebulous “they will be held until the State has returned to financial stability”. Yesterday, both spokespersons sought to zero in on exactly what was meant by “financial stability”.

As expected, they didn’t really get a response unless you count “the health of the domestic and international banking system, the global economic situation and developments in markets” as providing clarification.

However Minister Noonan did let slip that “the Central Bank of Ireland is responsible for financial stability considerations.” Now, you might recall that in the past, the Governor of the Central Bank has acted in support of the ECB rather than this State. Governor Patrick Honohan admits as much himself, but he claims that it is only in the matter of interest rate decisions that his duty to the ECB takes primacy over his national duty to the State.  The Governor knows full well that there is a sizable body of opinion that disputes that, and the fear will be that the ECB will dictate to the Central Bank the conditions and timing of the sale of the bonds onto the open market.

At the very least, the Government is admitting that it does not have control over the timing of the disposal of these bonds into the market. And should the ECB decide that the arrangement constitutes monetary financing – and it is the view on here that it is – then we might find the savings from the “deal” whittled away very quickly.

The full parliamentary questions and response are here:

Deputy Michael McGrath: To ask the Minister for Finance his views of what constitutes conditions of financial stability in respect of the timetable for the sale by the Central Bank of Irish Government bonds it has acquired as a result of the revised promissory note; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Finance further to Parliamentary Question 56 of 13 February 2013, if he will confirm what he means by conditions of financial stability; if such conditions exist today and if not, by reference to what metric will he judge when such conditions have been met, and specifically if there is an interest rate metric by reference to which these bonds will not be disposed of on the sovereign bond market..

Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan: I propose to answer questions 182 and 194 together.

The Government bonds are now held by the Central Bank of Ireland following the liquidation of IBRC.

Eight new Floating Rate Treasury Bonds have been issued to discharge the Promissory Notes liability consisting of:

•        a 25 year bond of €2bn maturing in 2038 with an interest rate of 6-month Euribor plus a margin of 2.50%;

•        a 28 year bond of €2bn maturing in 2041 with an interest rate of 6-month Euribor plus a margin of 2.53%;

•        a 30 year bond of €2bn maturing in 2043 with an interest rate of 6-month Euribor plus a margin of 2.57%;

•        a 32 year bond of €3bn maturing in 2045 with an interest rate of 6-month Euribor plus a margin of 2.60%;

•        a 34 year bond of €3bn maturing in 2047 with an interest rate  of 6-month Euribor plus a margin of 2.62%;

•        a 36 year bond of €3bn maturing in 2049 with an interest rate of 6-month Euribor plus a margin of 2.65%;

•        a 38 year bond of €5bn maturing in 2051 with an interest rate of 6-month Euribor plus a margin of 2.67%; and

•        a 40 year bond of €5bn maturing in 2053 with an interest rate of 6-month Euribor plus a margin of 2.68%.

The bonds will pay interest every six months (June and December).

The Central Bank of Ireland will sell the bonds but only where such a sale is not disruptive to financial stability. The Central Bank have undertaken that a minimum of bonds will be sold in accordance with the following schedule: €0.5bn by the end of 2014, €0.5bn per annum from 2015 to 2018, €1bn per annum from 2019 to 2023 and €2bn per annum from 2024 onwards.

The Central Bank of Ireland is responsible for financial stability considerations.  I would expect the Central Bank to take full account of the health of the domestic and international banking system, the global economic situation and developments in markets when considering financial stability considerations in relation to the disposal of these Irish government bonds.

UPDATE: 28th February, 2013. In reviewing the PQs on the Oireachtas website, it seems that Labour TD Colm Keaveney was also active in asking finance and economic questions this week, and he asked one similar to the two published above. This is the full text of the PQ and response:

Deputy Colm Keaveney asked if it is possible for the European Central Bank, acting unilaterally, to direct the Central Bank of Ireland to dispose of the long term Irish bonds created to replace the promissory notes following the dissolution of the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation onto the private market; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan: The Government bonds now held by the Central Bank following the liquidation of IBRC will be placed in the trading portfolio of the Central Bank, and these bonds will be sold as soon as possible, provided conditions of financial stability permit. The Central Bank of Ireland is responsible for financial stability considerations. I would expect the Central Bank to take full account of the health of the domestic and international banking system, the global economic situation and developments in markets when considering financial stability considerations in relation to the disposal of these Irish government bonds. The Central Bank has undertaken that a minimum of bonds will be sold in accordance with the following schedule: €0.5bn by the end of 2014,

€0.5bn per annum from 2015 to 2018, €1bn per annum from 2019 to 2023 and €2bn per annum from 2024 onwards.

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It comes as a surprise to some that there is still economic life in the colourful Johnny Ronan, the co-founder of Treasury Holdings which failed spectacularly last year after NAMA and KBC moved against it; Johnny currently has at least two high profile legal cases on the go in the High Court – as co-owner of Tanat Limited, Johnny is currently pursuing Dublin City Council over a rental agreement at Kingram House off Fitzwilliam Square, and separately as owner of Ickendel Limited, he is pursuing Bewley’s over their rental agreement at their outlet on Grafton Street. Despite his difficulties with NAMA last year, Johnny is said to be still cooperating with the Agency on his personal loans. Those familiar with Johnny’s story will know that his origins are in Tipperary where his dad was a pig farmer in Carrick-on-Suir, but it seems he is a member of a large family of entrepreneurs.

We previously saw in the Vita Cortex dispute that Jack Ronan, understood to be a cousin of Johnny’s, also had loans transferred to NAMA and indeed, NAMA was blamed by Vita Cortex management at the time for the failure of the company, which memorably saw a sit-in for 161 days after workers held out for what they claim was a promised-redundancy deal. Jack has a range of business interests including Orchardstown stud, a pre-school business called KangaKare, supermarkets through the La Plange group and a pig biotechnology business PIC Ireland Limited,

Today, we learn via Iris Oifigiuil that more Tipperary companies in the Ronan dynasty have failed. Liquidators have been appointed to Moville Investments Limited, Rocklow Holdings Limited and John Ronan and Sons Limited. The directors and owners of all three are Paul Ronan (57) and Thomas Ronan (50) who are understood to be second cousins of the colourful Johnny. At a meeting on 18th January 2013, Michael White of Courhouse Chambers in Cork was appointed liquidator to all three companies.

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It was the Fianna Fail finance spokesperson Michael McGrath who re-ignited the whole bankers’ pay and perks controversy last October 2012 when, at an Oireachtas committee hearing, he quietly asked the CEO of AIB, David Duffy about the €1.1bn that had been shoveled into the AIB pension fund the previous August. There was outrage at the time when it emerged that the former CEO of AIB, Eugene Sheehy was in receipt of an annual pension of between €300-325,000.

We found out that people we hold as responsible for the banking collapse were not only escaping accountability, but having retired, they were directly benefitting financially from the state bailout which has been in part used to plug the giant hole in the AIB pension fund. At the time, the new AIB CEO, David Duffy said he would write to the former senior executives seeking a waiver.

We still await the publication of the Mercer expert report on bank pay and perks; this is the report which was commissioned last June 2012 and about which Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan said this week, was still being prepared – it’s now been eight months since the €120,000 report was commissioned, and it is constantly used by Minister Noonan to stonewall questions.  Minister Noonan has a stock response to banking pay questions and that is “the further more detailed information sought in this question is not available to my Department at the present time and the compilation of this information, particularly the historic element, is likely to delay completion of the Mercer Remuneration Report which is a Government priority”

Well, yesterday, Minister Noonan didn’t use the stock Mercer report as a shield when quizzed by Deputy McGrath about the overall numbers of former AIB bankers who have been written to, by the AIB CEO seeking waivers because their pensions are so obscenely grand when set against the disastrous financial calamity that befell AIB, and which resulted in a bailout of €20bn from the taxpayer. No, Minister Noonan just claimed it was all confidential, and even providing anonymised totals would breach confidentiality duties. And in a new stonewalling technique, Minister Noonan came up with the following form of words “Given this is an on-going complicated process from a tax, legal and Revenue perspective the Bank is not in a position to confirm the levels of reductions achieved to date.”

You might recall that on 7th November 2012, AIB confirmed that it was writing to about 15 former senior executives seeking a waiver of their bumper pensions. We know that former CEO Eugene Sheehy agreed a waiver of between €50-75,000 to bring his annual pension down to €250,000. Are we to deduce from Minister Noonan’s response that the response from the senior executives to the request for a waiver was so bad, that it would be embarrassing to provide totals?

This is the full parliamentary question and response.

Deputy Michael McGrath: To ask the Minister for Finance the number of retired executives of AIB including EBS that have been written to by the bank asking that they consider voluntarily forgoing a portion of their pension; the number that responded positively, negatively, or not at all; the number of the retired executives that have since actually foregone some of their pension entitlement and the overall value of the pensions entitlements that have been foregone by retired executives of the bank.

Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan: The Deputy will be aware that AIB has previously confirmed that it has written to former senior executives of both AIB and EBS Limited requesting a voluntary reduction in their pension levels.

The Bank has informed me that is not disclosing the names of these individuals on confidentiality grounds, but that it has to date issued in excess of thirty letters. AIB is not in a position to release information on former employees without the express consent of the individuals.

Given this is an on-going complicated process from a tax, legal and Revenue perspective the Bank is not in a position to confirm the levels of reductions achieved to date.

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