The Mighty Quinn ought to know when to fold

The grip on the empire controlled by the man who was once Ireland’s richest individual has been prised a further notch open following one of the most dramatic days in the recent history of the Four Courts.

If Seán Quinn ever had any doubt about the forces ranged against his attempts to hold onto his wealth, he will have learned a valuable and painful lesson by the end of yesterday’s proceedings at the High Court.

His only son, Seán Jnr, is languishing in Mountjoy Prison this morning before a likely transfer to another jail where he will stay for the next three months, unless his father makes a better effort at co-operating with High Court orders than he has done to date.

In a further ignominy for the hard-nosed businessman who could lay justifiable claim to earning the nickname Mighty Quinn, gardaí are today continuing to search for his nephew, Peter Darragh Quinn, who failed to appear in court yesterday. Not quite a fugitive but a wanted man nonetheless.

For Quinn, who thrived on the admiration and gratitude of ordinary people who appreciated what he had done for communities in the border counties, the fall from grace will be particularly hard.

Yet there was no visible evidence on the face of the pensioner who was declared bankrupt earlier this year that he is particularly troubled by events.

“Sure, that’s life,” he shrugged at the end of the court hearing. “Have a good weekend,” he wished journalists as he hurriedly left the Four Courts.

As he entered Court 12 with his son in tow earlier, Quinn Snr remained as impassive as ever — his reputation as a mean card player evident in a well-honed poker face.

It was a visage that stayed unchanged four hours later, when Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne described his family’s co-operation with High Court orders as “outrageous”.

Having listened to sworn statements and legal arguments on behalf of the Quinns and the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (formerly Anglo Irish) for over three hours, the judge gave short shrift to the Quinns’ claims they had co-operated as much as possible and were helpless to do anything further.

Obstructions put in the way of Anglo had the “handwriting of Peter Quinn over it”, the judge remarked.

All three Quinns were due before court to face contempt proceedings for failing to comply with orders directing them to provide information to Anglo and unravel a scheme put in place to put assets under their control beyond the bank’s reach.

However, Anglo’s lawyers quickly remarked on the non-appearance of Peter, only to be told he was ill and unable to attend court.

The excuse caused a judicial eyebrow to be raised as Ms Justice Dunne noted he didn’t appear to have been too ill when he swore an affidavit earlier yesterday — between 2am and 3am to be more precise.

Efforts to contact Peter by phone, text, and email failed to elicit further information on his whereabouts, as unconfirmed reports emerged at lunchtime that the nephew had had a falling out with his uncle and cousin.

However, the missing man did make an appearance by proxy — in the form of a secret video recording of him attending a meeting with Sean Jnr in Kiev in January.

Shown at the request of Anglo, it portrayed Peter nervously fidgeting at a restaurant table as he realised he was getting less rent than the €5m they expected from a building they owned in the Ukraine.

“We’re not happy with €100,000 but we’ll take it, obviously,” said the figure in an unmistakable, thick Cavan accent. More damning, he said “that wouldn’t overly worry me” when the issue of him giving false evidence in court was raised.

Anglo’s chief executive, Mike Aynsley, who was accompanied by two burly security men, sat in the courtroom as the bank’s lawyers said it seemed the Quinns would be happier to spend time in jail than lose control of assets worth €500m.

For that reason, they suggested the two younger Quinns should be jailed while the boss used his powers to direct compliance with court orders.

In contrast, Brian O’Moore, for the Quinns, claimed Anglo’s approach was “medieval” by holding the son hostage to see what the “chieftain father” might do — a view firmly rubbished by the judge.

Anglo’s lawyers also expressed deep concern that eight members of the Quinn family had received previously unknown payments totalling almost €2.8m since Apr 2011 — a figure which resonates with the €2.8bn losses the family patriarch racked up through his share investment in the rogue bank.

As his immediate fate became clear, Seán Quinn Jnr, who earlier displayed signs of inheriting his father’s sense of imperiousness, appeared more ashen-faced before he was led to a waiting Garda van.

So for now, Quinn Snr, whose greed is blamed in some quarters for almost single-handedly bringing about the collapse of the Irish banks, remains free, although the threat of jail at some future point also hangs over the 65-year-old Fermanagh father of five.

For a man with a reputation as a shrewd card shark, Quinn should know that there is always a time when it’s wise to fold your hand. In terms of his battle against Anglo (and by extension the Irish taxpayer) that moment would seem to have arrived.

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