What are the facts in the Sean Quinn case?
- 31 July 2012
- From the section Northern Ireland
There has been much comment about former billionaire businessman Sean Quinn, who has been embroiled in a legal battle over the debts he owes the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, formerly the Anglo Irish Bank.
At the height of his success, Mr Quinn was the 12th richest man in the UK and the richest in Ireland, employing thousands, mostly in the previously job-starved cross-border area of Fermanagh and Cavan.
In April 2011, control of his business empire passed into the hands of the IBRC.
Later that year Sean Quinn declared himself bankrupt in a Belfast court, making him the biggest bankrupt in UK history.
On 26 July, a Dublin judge found that Mr Quinn, his son, Sean Quinn jnr and a nephew, Peter Darragh Quinn, hid millions in assets from the bank.
Mr Quinn jnr and Peter Darragh Quinn were given three-month jail terms.
Here are some key facts:
- Sean Quinn didn't invest in Anglo Irish Bank, he bet on it
If all he'd done was buy shares, his losses would have been limited.
But Sean Quinn chose a dangerous financial instrument called Contracts for Difference (CFDs) to build up a 25% stake in Anglo Irish Bank.
It was a leveraged bet on the share price - if it his bet had come good, he would have made billions, but because it went bad he lost more than five times his initial huge stake.
He literally bet the bank and both bank and Quinn went down. His losses totalled more than 3.2bn euros at the end, with Anglo on the hook for 2.8bn euros.
- Anglo didn't encourage Sean Quinn money to build this stake
Anglo Irish Bank was horrified when it discovered the scale of Sean Quinn's stake because they knew they could both go down if the full story was public.
It was a fatal embrace. The reason some directors of Anglo now face criminal charges is because of money lent to unwind and offload Sean Quinn's bet.
Even Sean Quinn has never publicly suggested that Anglo wanted him to build a 25% stake through CFDs in the bank.
- Sean Quinn broke the law before the bank moved in
Sean Quinn was removed from his insurance business by the regulator because he had broken the law.
He had used funds from his insurance business to prop up other parts of the group. It was a serious offence.
The regulator eventually put the entire business into administration because he found the Quinn management were still breaking the rules and there was a massive black hole in the finances. This happened a year before Anglo moved to take control of the rest of the empire.
Sean Quinn now accepts that the actions of the regulator were "right and proper".
Meanwhile all insurance policies in the Republic are now subject to a 2% levy indefinitely to fill the financial hole found in Quinn Insurance.
- The family had no viable plan to pay back the money
Once the insurance business was taken from family control, their offer to repay the 2.8 billion euros owed went up in smoke.
The fact that their plan relied upon cash from the insurance arm was not reassuring to a regulator who'd found that they had repeatedly broken the rules not to use money from the regulated business to support the rest of the group.
On 7 March 2011 (one month before Anglo took over the rest of the group) the family's lawyers stated clearly in a letter to Anglo that their offer to repay "was made solely in the context of our clients retaining economic control of Quinn Insurance".
The regulator had already ruled that out, it was not a matter within Anglo's control.
- The family did promise to honour loans of 455m euros
In that same letter to Anglo (obtained from Swedish court archives during my investigation for BBC Spotlight) the family's lawyers state: "Your client is aware that 455m euros of loans related to our clients' investments in their international property portfolio (IPP).
"These loans are performing and our clients have met the interest schedules on them, as clearly demonstrated by a review of the attached schedule."
The attached information is headed "Schedule of Valid Property Loans from Anglo Irish Bank Corporation Limited".
- Sean Quinn didn't just "frustrate" the bank
The reason Sean Quinn, his son and nephew, are guilty of contempt is because they took actions to interfere with the business and shift assets after Anglo had taken control last April and in breach of specific court injunctions obtained in June.
These actions include Sean Quinn falsifying documents in July (three months after he was ousted) to take control of a Moscow office block worth 180m euros and put it into an offshore company in Belize.
He falsified the documents to make it look like it was done while he was still in charge, but in fact he was a bogus director using fake documents to move very real and valuable assets beyond the reach of the taxpayer-owned bank.
Far from going to court and owning up to this course of action, as Sean Quinn has recently suggested he did, he denied all this in court.
He merely admitted taking steps to frustrate the bank while he was still in charge of the company. The judge didn't believe him.
- Sean Quinn isn't defying Anglo alone
He's defying the Irish courts.
It is the courts - not Anglo - that have found him in contempt.
Judge Kelly described the scheme he authorised as one of "mesmeric complexity" that "reeked of dishonesty and sharp practice". It is the courts that have ruled that the debt must be honoured.
- The legitimacy of the disputed loans will be determined
There is a case that will be heard over the legitimacy of the disputed 2.3bn euros loans.
But in the meantime the Quinns are legally bound to honour the court rulings.
If, ultimately, the 2.3bn euros is ruled illegal and unenforceable then they will be due compensation.
Supporters say this must be determined first, and it is right to hide assets in the meantime.
They say the actions taken to date are an attempt to bankrupt the Quinn family so they can't fight that other case.
But it is contradictory to ignore current court orders on the basis that you believe a future court decision will go your way. That suggests you only obey the law when it obeys you. It also ignores the undisputed 455m euros of debt the family have always agreed is owed.
Judge Elizabeth Dunne summarised this key argument in her contempt judgement: "Instead of trying to repay the admitted debt due, the Quinn family and in particular the respondents have taken every step possible to make it as difficult as can be to recover any amount due.
"They have engaged in a complex, complicated and, no doubt, costly, series of steps designed to put the assets of the IPG (International Property Group) beyond the reach of Anglo, in a blatant, dishonest and deceitful manner.
"They have consciously misled courts here and elsewhere. They have sought to deprive Anglo of the assets which would go some way to discharging an admitted indebtedness.
"The behaviour of the respondents outlined in evidence before me is as far as removed from the concept of honour and respectability as it is possible to be."