Quinn air of ordinariness tested in cross-examination
BACKGROUND:Former billionaire Seán Quinn and his family may have been notable a few years ago for their lack of media profile, but that is certainly no longer the case.
Yesterday his five children and three in-laws were in Court Number 1 in the Four Courts for the opening of a series of hearings that will see them all take the witness stand.
They are all to be questioned not only about aspects of their personal finances but also on the veracity and fullness of responses they have given to a High Court order that they disclose information about their affairs.
The massive battle in which they are engaged with the family’s nemesis, Anglo Irish Bank, has dragged the family into the media spotlight to such an extent that most of them are now on at least nodding terms with a wide range of representatives of the print and broadcast media.
Those members of the family who swap words with reporters create an impression of people who, despite being raised in circumstances of enormous wealth, are not inclined towards pomposity or self-importance.
But this surface impression of ordinariness, if that is the correct word, is misleading. This is a family that, realising that the enormous industrial and financial services group their father had built, and which the children owned, was about to be seized by a bank, decided to put an international portfolio of valuable commercial property beyond the bank’s reach, despite the bank’s legal claims.
Yesterday, the opening day of what looks set to be a number of sittings, Aoife Quinn (31) took the witness box to answer questions from former attorney general Paul Gallagher SC before Mr Justice Peter Kelly.
Gallagher, acting for Anglo (now part of the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation) commented to Quinn that the sittings formed part of the “conspiracy hearings”, which were concerned with the allegation that the family had moved assets beyond the bank’s reach.
When Quinn said she presumed he was correct, Gallagher pointedly asked her about her education.
Quinn has a bachelor of science degree and did postgraduate studies in law at Blackhall Place, Dublin. She worked for three to four years as a claims handler for Quinn Insurance.
She was questioned about her response to an order from the court that she produce all documents relating to the family’s plan to put the properties beyond the bank’s reach.
Quinn said that, although the affidavit she had sworn included a statement that she understood she was obliged to produce all documents in her “possession, power or procurement”, she had in fact believed she was obliged to produce only documents in her possession.
Gallagher quizzed her about her understanding of how people involved in litigation needed to keep documents that were important to the case.
Surely Quinn understood – having worked for three to four years as a claims handler with Quinn Insurance – the legal process whereby parties in a dispute are obliged to disclose documentation to each other, he said.
However, Quinn said she had worked in the “fast-track system”, which involved direct contact with the parties involved in an insurance claim, and did not involve lawyers.
Over the course of the day the court heard about bank accounts in Dubai with nothing in them, Russian-language employment contracts with Moscow property companies signed by Quinn without her knowing what job she was signing up for, what salary she was to receive (it was €379,000 a year), or the account with Ocean Bank, Moscow, into which her salary was paid.
She didn’t receive statements from the bank but received text messages every time there was a debit or credit, with each text also showing the balance on the account.
Quinn gave the impression in the witness box of being nervous but able. She did not make eye contact with Gallagher.
Watching her from the body of the court were her husband, Stephen Kelly, her siblings Colette, Brenda, Ciara and Seán jnr, his wife Karen Woods, and Ciara’s husband, Niall McPartland, all of whom are due to take the stand to be quizzed by Gallagher.