Midas touch: deal makes Desmond €1bn richer

WHEN Dermot Desmond bought the near-bankrupt London City Airport from the building firm John Mowlem he probably didn’t believe that 11 years later it would net him a profit of a cool €1 billion.

Even five years ago, in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, there were fears that London City might not survive in the heightened security environment given its proximity to the heart of the British capital.

But Desmond has developed the facility, shying away from the mass tourism market and focusing on short-haul business flights between London and the continent.

As ownership of the facility passed into the hands of an American banking consortium, the tax exile can be pleased that the deal makes him the richest Irish-born businessman.

Media-shy Desmond has risen over the past 25 years to become involved in some of biggest deals in country.

His first break came following his return to Ireland in the early 1980s after working for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Afghanistan, to start up National City Brokers, breaking the dominance of Davy and Goodbody.

It was also around this time that he began to form a plan to develop the International Financial Services Centre in Dublin that brought him to the attention of Charlie Haughey. The two became close friends and Desmond was a loyal financial supporter of the late Taoiseach.

As the Irish economy boomed, so did Mr Desmond’s finances and that of NCB, which he sold to NatWest in 1994. After the sale he set up International Investments & Underwriting.

One of the first firms he backed was Denis O’Brien’s Esat, which was then bidding for the second mobile phone licence. Another was a technology start-up called Baltimore. Soon after both companies floated on the stock market he sold out his stakes, netting more than €100 million from each.

But it was not just private companies that the Cork-born businessman became involved in. He purchased large chunks of Golden Vale, Greencore and Unidare. Though the latter two have not proved as successful, he netted millions from Golden Vale’s takeover by Kerry Group.

His career has not been without controversy. His involvement with the sale of Telecom Éireann land at Ballsbridge in Dublin was the subject of the Glacken Tribunal (whose report findings he disputes to this day) and he has also given evidence at the Moriarty Tribunal in relation to Esat being awarded the second mobile licence.

Over the last number of years, the football-loving Desmond, the largest shareholders in Glasgow Celtic, has become closely linked with Coolmore’s John Magnier and the Switzerland-based JP McManus. Along with former Kerry boss Denis Brosnan, they are the majority shareholders in British nursing home group Barchester, which is worth around €1 billion.

They have already realised some of their British investment through the sale of fitness chain Next Generation for about €50 million.

Though a tax exile in Gibraltar, he is unlikely to retire anytime soon. He is heavily involved in a number of other ventures include a 30% stake in health insurer Vivas, holdings in technology companies Intuition and Daon, ownership of the betting exchange Betdaq and a major stake in a Latvian bank.

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