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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
[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.