Some tales told in Coroin hotel trial 'fanciful', says judgment
BACKGROUND:The judge in the McKillen shares case questioned the reality of certainc stories from both sides
FOR MONTHS lawyers thronged Court 26 in the Rolls Building just off Fleet Street in London arguing about the control of three of London’s top hotels.
Yesterday the judgment from Mr Justice David Richards was delivered to a near-empty Court 1, with just a single junior counsel and pair of solicitors, along with the press.
The battle between property developer Patrick McKillen and the billionaire Barclay twins, David and Frederick, has been for the highest of stakes.
Coroin owns the Berkeley, Connaught and Claridges hotels – which were bought, along with the Savoy, when Irish investors were riding high in the international property world.
Mr McKillen argued that the brothers had used “unlawful, or unfairly prejudicial” means to deny him the right to take control of the stake in Coroin held by financier Derek Quinlan.
The principals did not need to attend yesterday’s brief hearing because they had known the outcome since it appeared in the judge’s draft judgment on Wednesday.
That draft included all bar a declaration of the judge’s belief that Mr McKillen could not have afforded Mr Quinlan’s stake, even if he had been given the opportunity to buy it.
The judgment does not make pleasant reading for the Belfast man, whose passion for the hotels is undeniable, even if the judge had doubts about his ability to pay for them.
During the case, Mr McKillen argued that Mr Quinlan had made a secret deal with the Barclays to sell them his shares in order to keep Mr Quinlan afloat.
The deals, particularly one that Mr McKillen alleged had been made verbally in January 2011, were said to have triggered pre-emption rights in the shareholders’ agreement.
So, he argued, he should have had the right to buy a proportion of Mr Quinlan’s shares – which, since he already owns 36.2 per cent, would have given him majority control.
The hotels are successful but are saddled with £660 million worth of debt, that Nama sold to the Barclays last year – a move that infuriated Mr McKillen.
“All the evidence in the case, and there is a good deal of it, shows that indebtedness is too high,” said the judge.
“The evidence consistently suggests that the debt should be reduced to no more than £450/500 million.”
The enmity between the sides was evident, with Mr McKillen and Mr Quinlan ignoring each other at the back of the court-room.
Neither of the Barclays gave evidence, or attended the trial. While press coverage of the trial provoked complaints from all sides, Mr Quinlan’s wife Siobhán expressed delight about the portrayal of her husband’s meeting with a Saudi prince on a yacht in Sardinia.
U2’s Bono, a friend of Mr McKillen, had been brought along to the yacht too, even though he was not involved in the hotels.
The life led by Ireland’s property-rich investors was repeatedly displayed: flights to the Gulf to meet billionaire princes, coffee and cigars in Monaco, and drives in Maseratis.
Equally, the court heard of the role played by former British prime minister Tony Blair, who brokered a deal between Mr McKillen and Qatari investors.
Early this year, the judge said Mr Blair’s “personal intervention” with prime minister of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, led to the latter agreeing to buy Mr McKillen’s share if the court said he could purchase the Barclays’ interests.