Chieftain of the North loses out in battle with banking tribe
THE ONE-TIME mighty business chieftain of the North, Seán Quinn, arrived at the Dublin courts yesterday morning with his son and departed hours later without him.
Ireland’s former richest man, now the country’s most heavily indebted bankrupt, left with a “have a good weekend” to a huddle of reporters outside the Four Courts.
About an hour later, at 4.15pm, his only son was driven off to Mountjoy Prison in a Garda van for his first night behind bars.
Quinn’s 33-year-old son last night started what could be a three-month prison sentence, or longer, if they fail to purge their contempt of court orders and reverse the transfer of €500 million in properties beyond the reach of the former Anglo Irish Bank, which is now owned by the State and the Quinn family’s biggest creditor.
Their lawyers had pleaded with the judge yesterday that the bank proposed “a medieval approach” of jailing the son to “see what the chieftain father can do” to purge their contempt and unwind the conspiracy that Quinn, his son and nephew, Peter Darragh Quinn, had admitted their involvement in.
Three weeks after ordering them to comply with court orders to unravel the asset-stripping conspiracy, Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne said that she wasn’t happy with their co-operation to date.
She said that the bank’s suggestion was “far from being medieval” but was “a practical way” of encouraging their compliance.
She made orders jailing Seán Quinn jnr and his cousin Peter Darragh Quinn for three months, but delayed any punitive sanction against the 65-year-old Quinn snr, at the head of the clan, so he could comply with the court orders.
The threat of jail hangs over the former billionaire but if he shows the court that he has taken steps to purge his contempt, he will avoid prison and can free his son and nephew within the three months.
Ms Justice Dunne described their contempt of court as “outrageous” saying that it warranted a punitive order as well as a strong coercive element to ensure that they complied with her orders.
The bank had argued that it seemed that the Quinns were willing to go to jail for a short time, “get over this difficulty” and then hold on to €500 million in assets.
The judge was surprised to hear that eight members of the Quinn clan, including Seán Quinn jnr’s wife, Karen Woods, had received payments totalling €2.8 million since the bank seized control of the Quinn businesses in April 2011.
The money was paid from a company that owned the Kutuzoff office block in Moscow, the rental income from which should have been going to Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, formerly Anglo, to repay some of the family’s €2.8 billion debts to the bank.
The judge was also played a secretly recorded video of a meeting in Ukraine in January 2012 between Seán Quinn jnr, his cousin and a group of businesspeople they had dealt with.
Her eyebrows twitched when she heard Peter Darragh Quinn say in the recording that lying in court “wouldn’t overly worry me”.
Quinn himself wasn’t there to hear this private confessional moment played in public court.
He had failed to show up in court despite the judge being told that he seemed okay when he swore an affidavit for the hearing sometime between 2am and 3am yesterday.
By the time the hearing ended, there was still no sign of Quinn or news of his whereabouts, despite an arrest warrant having been issued.
In the absence of his 35-year-old cousin, Seán Quinn jnr, the chieftain’s son, will go down in the annals of Ireland’s financial crisis as the first person to go to jail in the aftermath of the collapse of Anglo.
Quinn jnr sat next to his father at the back of a packed Court 12 as the judge refused to delay his imprisonment pending an appeal on Monday.
A few feet away sat the chieftains from the banking tribe, the warring rivals in what was described in court as a “constant war”.