Quinn in wonderland

If you had arrived direct from Mars, a radio interview yesterday with Sean Quinn Sr and his daughter Colette-Marie would have melted your heart, says Michael Clifford

Sean Quinn Jr, Colette-Marie Quinn, Sean Quinn Sr: The combined forces ranged against this “upstanding family, took over our companies, destroyed our reputations and are now putting us in prison”.

THEY spoke of the incarcerated man in terms of his human qualities. His father, Sean Quinn Sr, said he was a fine son, one of whom he was very proud. His sister, Colette-Marie Quinn, mentioned his involvement in sport, his wide circle of friends.

“He has been the best brother I ever could have asked for,” she said of Sean Quinn Jr. Her voice thickened with emotion as she spoke of him. Later, Colette-Marie mentioned how her mother was taking it all.

“She is sitting at home and her only son is in jail and that is devastating for her. It has to be hardest on mammy. She has spent the last 37 years raising a family. Daddy was off working hard, and she raised us, and to see her family falling apart around her, it’s very hard to stand by that.”

Sean Quinn Jr is serving a three-month sentence for what Judge Elizabeth Dunne called an “outrageous” contempt of court. He, hisfather and his cousin Peter Quinn, stand accused of attempting to squirrel away up to €500m, despite the court putting a freezing order on the assets. The Quinn family owes the former Anglo Irish Bank €2.8bn. Yesterday, the local radio station in Cavan, Northern Sound, broadcast an interview with Sean Quinn Sr, and his daughter Colette-Marie.

If you had arrived direct from Mars, the interview would have melted your heart. Here was a father and daughter, no airs or graces, explaining to a sympathetic interviewer, how their family had been hounded by various forces and agencies of the state. The narrative indicted government, media, the law — but not specifically any judge — bankers, and, at the helm of this dastardly campaign, an Englishman, who had arrived in the country striking fear into the heart of everybody.

Who is this guy, another Oliver Cromwell? No, just Matthew Elderfield, the financial regulator brought in to clean up a mess, but a man whom Quinn ludicrously concluded “wanted rid of the Quinns, and I don’t think the Irish government, particularly with the media, felt in a position to over-rule [Elderfield]”. For the record, Elderfield was merely doing his job, which was to actually impose the regulation that had been absent during the bubble years.

Anyway, back in Quinn in Wonderland, the combined forces ranged against this upstanding family, “took over our companies, destroyed our reputations and are now putting us in prison.” The media has been both stupid and devious. “A lot of the media would be anti-Quinn and they fell for the Anglo story hook, line and sinker, and Quinn is the bad boy.”

Then interviewer Joe Finnegan laid it on the line for Quinn.

“You’re not bitter, you’re not angry. Obviously you believe in due process. [Do] you believe that the justice system in this country will ultimately come to a conclusion?”

Sean replied: “I feel we have been made scapegoats and Anglo has used the situation. I believe Anglo, this is the best thing that ever happened to them. Now they are being seen as the good boys, claiming taxpayers’ money back from the Quinns. Now Anglo, the greatest losers in the history of the state, are now owning and managing one of the best companies in the history of the state.”

“Prior to 2007, [we were] earning profits of between €400m and €600m a year and now being run by Anglo and devastated, failing, it’s unbelievable what’s happening.”

It’s unbelievable alright. In fact, the whole interview was — to borrow a phrase — grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre, unprecedented. What emerged is that the Quinn family — and their supporters — have a view of reality that is completely at variance with the known facts.

Last Wednesday, Judge Peter Kelly said that a scheme to put assets beyond the reach of the bank was the largest and most devious he had ever seen. The judge said he’d encountered “national and international fraud, sharp practice, chicanery and dishonesty”, but he’d never seen anything like the Quinns.

Their scheme was “reeking of dishonesty, for the two-fold objective of putting assets beyond the bank’s reach and to feather their own nests.”

Quinn’s view of what has befallen his family omits a few salient facts. In the first instance, he gambled nearly €3bn on Anglo Irish shares and lost. The gamble was both reckless and greedy. He has nobody but himself to blame for that.

He said he would honour his debts but he has done everything possible to welsh on them, to the point where the law has been forced to intervene.

His contention about the profitability of his businesses prior to accumulating the huge debt is also suspect. Quinn Insurance was the cash cow for the group. While the economy was on the up, everything was hunky dory. Once the economy turned, premium income plummeted, and the cost of claims went through the roof.

Last week, it emerged that the cost of cleaning up after Quinn Insurance could top €1bn, due largely to outstanding claims in Britain dating from Quinn’s management of the company. Guess who’s paying for that?

Then there’s Mrs Quinn, the homemaker. Last November, she tried to convince a judge that her husband coerced her into signing for a loan of €3m, and, as a result, she shouldn’t be liable to repay it. The judge threw it out, saying a presumption of marital coercion went out sometime in the Middle Ages.

Colette-Marie Quinn has done nicely out of her family’s collapsing empire. She was paid over €300,000 last year from the overseas property arm of the company. Sean Jr’s wife was paid a salary of €320,927 from a Russian firm in the year before her nuptials last May. She also finds time to work as a receptionist for a Dublin car dealer, which must be a comedown from her jet- setting number in Russia. Salaries totalling €3.6m were paid out to the Quinn family, and the bank believes it was all a bogus exercise to siphon money from assets that are frozen by court order.

Here’s Sean Quinn again. “They [Anglo] want to bleed us of our money and our reputation.”

The interviewer then stuck the boot in. “They want to destroy you?”

“Absolutely, and they’ve done a damn good job of it,” says Sean.

As far as reputation is concerned, he’s managing that fine all by himself.

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