IT WOULD have been hard-hearted not to have felt at least some sympathy for Seán Quinn if you had watched him shed tears on the stage of the protest rally at Ballyconnell in County Cavan last Sunday.
This was what he had been reduced to: once a billionaire, reputedly the richest man on the island, now a bankrupt. The man who felt he could give everything to his children — and didn’t he try, in a financial sense at least? — seeing his son languishing in jail, something he now possibly faces himself. But that’s enough sympathy. He doesn’t deserve any more than a mere thought of it.
So if there are there are tears today when Seán Quinn senior discovers if he is or is not to be sent to jail for contempt shown against previous High Court orders, just remember this: the family have nobody to blame for their problems but themselves.
Take no notice of angry declarations either of the type of the nonsense uttered last Sunday by Quinn’s brother Peter (father of Peter junior, too cowardly to face the courts in the Republic of Ireland, the consequences of his contempt). There’s likely to be all sorts of bull spoken by Quinn’s supporters today, whatever the decision of High Court judge Elizabeth Dunne on jailing him for contempt is. If he’s jailed it’s likely to be described as a gross injustice. If he’s not, some sort of vindication may be claimed, erroneously.
Quinn and his relatively small group of supporters have a tendency to make claims that are outlandish and demonstrably false. They can be summarised along these lines:
1. Quinn ran a perfectly good business until Anglo Irish Bank came along and ruined him.
2. Quinn would have rescued the situation had his businesses not been taken unjustly from him.
3. Quinn was forced unlawfully to take loans from Anglo and to offer his assets as collateral for these illegal loans, making him vulnerable to what eventually happened.
4. Quinn has only acted to protect what is his from the grasp of the State.
5. Quinn is the victim of a giant conspiracy involving the Government, Anglo Irish Bank, the judiciary and the media.
6. There are many others who were worse than him, who seem to be escaping scot-free.
The response can be summarised in this way:
1. Quinn over-expanded his business empire and tried to prop it up improperly by using cash from an insurance business that had been run disastrously and incurred massive losses, way more than €1 billion. That was entirely separate to his gambling on Anglo shares.
2. Quinn’s behaviour with the insurance company’s cash reserves — as well as the dubious day-to-day business practices — meant he could not be trusted by the regulator to be allowed to continue run it. His plan to use Quinn Insurance profits to rescue the group and repay his debts to Anglo was Walter Mittyesque in its expectations and doomed to failure.
3. Quinn was not forced by anybody to buy shares in Anglo. While Anglo should not have lent him the money to try to rescue the situation when his gambling on the shares went wildly wrong, Quinn willingly took the money and pledged his family’s assets, normal collateral for a loan.
4. While Quinn is entitled to argue the legality of the €2.3bn loan used to cover his insane share gamble at Anglo, he has admitted previously the €455m or so borrowed for his property speculation outside of Ireland is a legitimate debt. The bank was entitled to seize control of those assets when the debts could not be repaid. Therefore by disobeying court orders and by putting those assets “beyond the reach” of the bank (and the State as the bank’s owner), he has potentially cost all of us.
5. The facts do not bear out Quinn’s claim of victimhood. Indeed, they suggest a cynical and disingenuous attempt to mislead people through the uttering of a series of deliberate mistruths.
6. There are many others who deserve to be brought to justice. The basis of the Quinn defence to the contempt charges they have faced, and continue to face, is most interesting. It was best summarised by Mr Justice Donal O’Donnell in the Supreme Court when he said that the argument being put in front of him was the family had set out to double-cross the bank, but had in turn been double-crossed by the agents in Russia and elsewhere that it had used to put its plan into operation. Now the Quinns have claimed that they can’t reverse their own wrongful acts, because they are the victims of that double cross, and therefore cannot purge their contempt and return the assets to Anglo.
But should we believe the Quinns when they say that they can’t get the money back? One of the reasons why the contempt proceedings were brought was the emergence of proof the Quinns had not just transferred assets after a court order in the summer of 2011, but had deliberately altered and forged documents to make it appear the transfers had occurred prior to that date.
Anglo (or Irish Bank Resolution Corporation) as it likes to be called now) does not accept that the family has lost control of these assets. Indeed, it can’t. What would happen if the courts were to accept the Quinn assurances and we were to learn subsequently that it was yet another lie? Nor should we accept all of this nonsense that the Quinns were humble people who only did what they did for the benefit of the people of the border region. “I don’t use a mobile phone,” Seán Quinn told a business conference in his own four-star Slieve Russell hotel in 2007. “I play cards in a house at night where you have to go out into the front street to go to the toilet... I live a very simple life... I’m not overly shy but I much prefer to just sit back and enjoy what I’m doing, with my two dogs, my Wellington boots on, and dodging about the mountain.”
WHAT he didn’t tell us what he lived in a 14,700 sq ft mansion — complete with swimming pool, hot tub, jacuzzi, snooker room, putting green and cinema.
Justice Elizabeth Dunne nailed it in the High Court when she said, in response to Quinn’s claim in evidence that he ran his empire with honour, that his behaviour was “as far removed from the concept of honour and respectability as can be”. She has given reasoned judgements, based on the evidence in front of her, that find the Quinns have acted in “a blatant, dishonest and deceitful manner.” She has described their evidence as, among other things, “frankly unbelievable”, “completely lacking in credibility”, “evasive, less than forthright, obstructive, uncooperative and at times untruthful”. Documents presented to the court were found to have been “fabricated or falsified”.
So let’s summarise things, on the basis of the known facts: Quinn was an outrageous gambler on the stock market. He didn’t have enough money to cover his bets, he recklessly used other people’s money to do so, including that of the insurance company. He lost his bets but does not want to pay them. He has sought to keep money and assets that are not his, or to do so on behalf of his family. All of us are suffering the financial consequences of his greed.
While none of this changed what Quinn had created or achieved for the border region, particularly the creation of jobs, it did outweigh it. While loyalty to Quinn in the border region was honourable in the early days of his crisis, it should have evaporated as the facts became known. Their misplaced loyalty makes those who still support Quinn’ look foolish.
* The Last Word with Matt Cooper is broadcast on 100-102 Today FM, Monday to Friday, 4.30pm to 7pm.
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