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Archive for May 16th, 2012

If you have a few hours tomorrow morning and want to witness an unusual piece of  performance art, why not go down to Court 4 at the High Court at 10.45am where NAMA will begin its case against the Information Commissioner – to be precise, the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information –  who last year designated NAMA a “public authority” which was subject to environmental information requests. NAMA was unhappy with the ruling and will tomorrow commence its action at the High Court to have the ruling overturned. Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns is set to be the host for the performance as tens of thousands of euro – your euro – will be spent on the legal battle between two state agencies, the Information Commissioner who wants to promote transparency and NAMA who resists such efforts.

Up to now NAMA has hidden behind the confidentiality terms imposed on the Agency by the NAMA Act; “we’re sorry, we’d love to share that information with you, but alas the NAMA Act prevents us from so doing”. But now that the Information Commissioner has ruled that NAMA is subject to environmental information requests, the Agency seems eager to resist lawful adjudication, which might give us all a better insight into the workings of the Agency.

For some reason the Courts Service refuses to place details of the case on its website but the case reference is 2011 357 MCA. Journalist Gavin Sheridan is the crusader who succeeded last year in having the Information Commissioner, Emily O’Reilly adjudicate that NAMA was a public authority, and although he is not a party to these proceedings, no doubt he will keep us informed of the progress and outcome of the case on thestory.ie. Earlier this year, the NAMA CEO didn’t want to answer questions about the rationale for spending tens of thousands of taxpayers’ money to defend a transparency ruling by another state agency, saying that the matter was before the courts. I don’t think he will escape so lightly when the matter is next raised at official levels! There is background to the case on thestory.ie here and here.

UPDATE (1): 18th May, 2012. Gavin Sheridan from thestory.ie reports that the case was not heard yesterday, seemingly due to lack of time, but is set to be heard this morning, again in Court 4 at 10.45am. You can follow Gavin on Twitter here, and it is hoped there will be tweet updates throughout the case.

UPDATE (2): 18th May, 2012. Gavin Sheridan has tweeted to say the case has been put back “to the end of July” because a judge was not available today.

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On both sides of the Border there is ongoing litigation in the Quinn Family Saga with Anglo, or IBRC as it is now known, locked in battle as it pursues €2.8bn of outstanding loans from the Quinns. On the other hand, the Quinns claim that the bulk of the loans were for an illegal share-support scheme and dispute that the loans are in fact due. IBRC now equals the Irish state, so it is you and I that are pursuing €2.8bn from Ireland’s former wealthiest tycoon, Sean Quinn. IBRC is trying to take possession of an estimated €500m of property assets formerly owned by the Quinns, and last night BBC Northern Ireland broadcast an award-deserving investigative special on the obstacles facing Anglo in its quest. The hour long Spotlight programme is available here for the audience in the UK. If you need to convince the BBC website that your computer is in the UK so that you can watch the programme, then you can fool them by using an IP proxy masking service like ExpatShield.

Last night’s programme was presented by Jim Fitzpatrick who travelled from Derrylin from where the Quinn empire was controlled, to Dublin to Stockholm to Kiev to Moscow to Belize to try to establish what has happened to the €500m property portfolio that Anglo is seeking to use to offset the Quinn loans. It is fascinating, blood-boiling investigative reporting at its best, well worth a look.


Sean Quinn’s office after his ousting in April 2011

Presenter Jim Fitzpatrick recounted that it was only by chance after Anglo had appointed receivers to the Quinn group in April 2011 that an invoice arrived on the doormat in Derrylin which related to the assembly of an intricate web of international companies which has seemingly made great efforts to extract a €500m property portfolio from the Quinn group, and away from Anglo’s reach. Jim first visited Stockholm, Sweden where it appears the web of companies was assembled by Peter Darragh Quinn, Sean Quinn’s nephew.


BBC presenter Jim Fitzpatrick examining official records of company documentation in Stockholm

It would appear that Sean Quinn signed some of the documentation relating to the companies in June 2011 which was three months after Anglo appointed receivers to the Quinn group, and that is very interesting because in court proceedings, Sean Quinn has not disputed the allegation that he signed documents and attempted to move property beyond the reach of Anglo, but Sean has insisted that what he did was perfectly lawful and pre-dated the appointment of receivers by Anglo in April.


Documentation uncovered by the BBC in Sweden which apparently shows Sean Quinn’s signature in June 2011

Jim then moved to the Ukrainian capital Kiev for what was probably the most blood-boiling part of the programme. The Quinns owned a shopping centre in Kiev


BBC presenter Jim Fitzpatrick outside the €50m Ukraina shopping centre in central Kiev.

The shopping centre is worth €50m and is said to collect USD 1m in rent every month from its tenants. Anglo is trying to take possession of it but so far, Anglo has failed to get its employees onto the premises and the programme recounted an incident last year when the Anglo appointed representative was met with police wielding AK47s when he attempted to enter the management area of the shopping centre.


Ukrainian security guards not happy with the BBC filming the Quinn shopping centre

Whilst filming outside the shopping centre the BBC was confronted by security guards who ordered them to stop filming despite being on the sidewalk. So why can’t Anglo get possession of a €50m asset which it thought was security for loans to the Quinns? Because an employee of the company who was apparently paid USD 500,000 by the Quinn’s Ukrainian company last year accepted the legitimacy of a debt from an offshore company, and that offshore company now stands in front of Anglo in the queue for possessing the shopping centre. Why did this employee accept the debt which doesn’t apparently have any foundation? Well the BBC visited her apartment building for answers.


No-where to hide. The BBC turns up at employee’s home to seek answers.

Unfortunately the employee refused to speak to the BBC, as did the employee’s boss Larisa Yanes Puga whose salary was apparently doubled last year.


Larisa Puga (left), not answering questions

The court system in Ukraine was described as corrupt by a local journalist and a representative of an international commercial body in Ukraine said they did everything to avoid their clients depending on the Ukrainian court system. So it seems the BBC was getting no joy in Kiev. Onwards to Moscow where another Quinn property, this time a valuable office block which in a manner almost identical to the Kiev property has ended up being owned by an offshore company on foot of a mysterious debt. The company in the Moscow case is Galfis, a company incorporated in the tiny central American country of Belize.

So the BBC went to Belize City in search of Galfis, and what do the offices of this international company which lays claim to the €100m Moscow office block look like?


Jim Fitzpatrick points to the registered office of Galfis, the Belize-registered company which lays claim to a €100m Moscow office block formerly owned by the Quinns

The BBC interviewed the man who put Belize on the map as an offshore company paradise who explained how local corporate laws work. Anglo had sought to unmask the person or persons behind Galfis and found that it was a Ukrainian railway worker and in a court case in Belize, that Ukrainian was summoned to give evidence by video link, and during the hearing the judge became aware the Ukrainian was being coached by someone in the room off-camera and when that person was ordered to leave, the video link went dead. Which leaves us all hanging for the time being as to what has happened to the Quinn property empire.

And so back to Dublin where the Quinns – Sean, his son Sean junior and his nephew Peter Darragh Quinn – face jail for contempt of court and allegedly breaching an injunction obtained by Anglo last year to stop the Quinns acting to place their property beyond the bank’s reach. The BBC caught up with Sean Quinn and the family outside The Four Courts in central Dublin. Sean Quinn junior and Peter Darragh Quinn were keeping schtumm when Jim Fitzpatrick attempted to ask questions about the transfers. A spokesman for the Quinns later told the BBC it didn’t want to comment with legal proceedings ongoing.


Jim Fitzpatrick confronting Sean Quinn junior and Peter Darragh Quinn outside The Four Courts in Dublin

The Quinns were released from attending court last Friday for the wedding of Sean Quinn junior, whose best man was Peter Darragh Quinn. A happy day for the Quinn family who wait to hear at the start of June if they will be sent to jail.


Best-man Peter Darragh Quinn and groom Sean Quinn junior on Friday 11th May 2012

The BBC is to be commended for producing a fascinating programme. For telling a coherent story. For travelling to the far-flung locales where the former Quinn empire is located and to the jurisdictions whose incorporated companies are now laying claim to that same property. For standing their ground in Kiev where security guards were clearly unhappy with their presence, for tracking down employees even if they didn’t want to speak. And journalistically, for seeking comment from the Quinns so as to provide an opportunity for counterbalance. Great programming. The matters examined are before the courts at present.


Peter Darragh Quinn and Sean Quinn junior walking away from The Four Courts in Dublin

[All images above are screen grabs from BBC Spotlight]

UPDATE: 26th June, 2012. The BBC Spotlight Special is being repeated tonight at 22.45 on BBC Northern Ireland.

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