How a former IRA man ‘saved’ Germany’s ‘anti-Christ financier’
German financier Florian Homm went from wolf of Wall Street to repentant lamb after discovering the Virgin Mary in prison, with Irish help
Florian Homm: “The path I took for 30 years made me one of the world’s richest Germans, but it brought me nothing on the inside.” Photograph: Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images
If anyone makes a film of Florian Homm’s life, the pitch to the backers would be: “German Wolf of Wall Street encounters the Virgin Mary and has Saul-to-Paul conversion.”
It’s a three-act drama, still unfolding, about an ambitious and aggressive financier on a turbo capitalism rocket ride who made a lot of money and enemies, then crash-landed, lost everything and learned the oldest lesson of them all: money can’t buy happiness.
Along the way four Irish people – three real, one fictional – played key roles in changing the life of this tanned, two-metre-plus man with intense brown eyes.
“The path I took for 30 years made me one of the world’s richest Germans, but it brought me nothing on the inside,” says Mr Homm by way of introduction as he prowls the stage of a small auditorium in Erding, near Munich.
He’s here to warn students of a local management school not to follow his example. The only problem is that the more yarns he spins – his rescue of Dortmund soccer club; his stake in Europe’s largest brothel in Berlin; how he survived an assassination attempt in Caracas – the more his student audience regard him with silent rapture. In the buttoned-down world of German business they will eventually join, Florian Homm remains notorious as the “anti-Christ financier”.
In his speech, and our interview later, it’s clear Mr Homm knows how to relate anecdotes from his life with the same take-no-prisoners style in which he originally lived them. But it’s less clear whether he realises how blurry the lines are in his world: between fact and fiction, legal and illegal, profane and sacred.
Driving forceBorn in 1959, Mr Homm grew up in Bad Homburg near Frankfurt as a member of the Neckermann mail-order dynasty. A self-made millionaire at 22, with six languages under his belt, he passed quickly through Harvard Business School and worked at US and Swiss banks before becoming a driving force in Germany’s “Neuer Markt” stock market for new economy shares. When the dot-com bubble burst he set up the Mallorca-based hedge fund Absolute Capital Management Holdings (ACM) with Donegal man Sean Ewing.
The fund had several billion under management until 2007 when Mr Homm sold his shares abruptly and disappeared. The ACM shares collapsed and US authorities put out an arrest warrant for Mr Homm on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and securities fraud. The central charge is of “portfolio pumping”: buying and selling lightly-traded shares via entities he controlled with the aim of inflating his hedge fund’s value and pocketing illicit profits.
The allegations prompted Swiss authorities to have frozen assets reportedly worth tens of millions, accusing him of spreading the rest among friends before going underground. Mr Homm denies the charges and says Mr Ewing and the rest of ACM board colluded in his absence to make him the scapegoat for their own guilt.
Mr Homm dismisses the case against him as a frame-up by powerful people who want to see him either behind bars or, preferably, dead.
“People who invested €40 million have sued for €200 million damages and accuse me of things that don’t stand up to even the simplest of checks,” he told The Irish Times.
Ask about his years on the run, Mr Homm is cagey about the details. He spent much of his time on the move, with regular stops in Colombia and Ireland, travelling on an Irish passport under the name Colin Trainor. Mr Homm insists the passport was legitimate, acquired through investment, and that the assumed name was vital to moving around without being tracked or killed – a real risk, he says, after aggrieved former clients put out a €1.5 million bounty on his head.
After falling out with his Irish partner Mr Ewing and going underground as Irishman Colin Trainor, Mr Homm says his life changed forever after an encounter with a third Irishman.
“He was a former IRA man but told me he didn’t drink and didn’t kill anymore thanks to a little blue book,” said Mr Homm.
Our Lady’s Message of Mercy to the World is a small book containing messages that Dublin native Olive Dawson says she has received in apparitions of the Virgin Mary since 1988. Since then Ms Dawson, who now lives in Kent, has devoted her life to spreading the messages and, her supporters say, survives solely on the holy eucharist. Mr Homm says he had no firm religious beliefs but agreed to look at the book recommended by the ex-IRA man.
It would play a key role in his life after March 2013 when he was arrested in Florence and taken into custody pending extradition to the US for trial. During long months in a squalid small cell in Pisa he shared with seven others, Mr Homm says his health deteriorated rapidly after prison authorities withheld his medication for multiple sclerosis, diagnosed in 2000.
ConvictedThough it all, he says, he took solace in messages from his well-thumbed blue book and a message he received from the Virgin Mary that he would be released – a tall order considering he faced 225 years behind bars if convicted in the US.
In a dramatic reversal of fortune, after his remand period exceeded the maximum duration in extradition cases, Mr Homm walked out of prison on June 3rd this year. He left Italy and drove to his native Germany, knowing it does not extradite its citizens.
“There was a bounty on my head, in prison I had no MS medicine for three months, I was like the walking dead and yet I’m still alive,” he said. “The book saved my life.”
Given his hard-living former lifestyle, filled with aggressive takeovers, Russian table-dancers and multi-million villas, many in Germany have taken a sceptical view of Mr Homm’s Saul-to-Paul experiences. He says he doesn’t care: “Now I do business on behalf of the blessed mother.”
The repentant rogue financier is confident the charges against him in the US will eventually be dropped. In the meantime, he has dedicated his new life to good works and sustainable investments in companies like Clinuvel.
The pharmaceutical company develops drugs to fight rare skin disorders, including photodermatitis, the photosensitivity disorder that prompted Germany’s ex-chancellor Helmut Kohl’s wife Hannelore to take her life in 2001. Mr Homm has donated the proceeds of his memoir, Rogue Financier, to finance education for school children in Liberia, one of the world’s poorest countries.
“When I visited Liberia first, a country I once could have practically bought, I met people who had less than nothing but who were happier than I ever was,” he said.
“My work now is rehabilitation for my soul. Have you ever met unhappy development worker? I haven’t. Ever met a really happy financier? Neither have I.”
Only in hindsight did he realise his fall, landing with a bump at the very bottom, was a liberation, from his expensive but empty life and fair-weather, high-flying friends. Losing his €500 million fortune, he says, was his exit pass from the world of hamster wheel capitalism where money is the only measure of success.
So is this a new Florian Homm, or the old shrewd operator who knows how to play the media for a rebranding campaign? Mr Homm insists he is genuine and hopes his story will help others rethink their lives and open their hearts to redemption through the Virgin Mary. As he recovers his health after his time in prison, he insists she should be judged not on his past, but on his future.
“I neglected my soul for three decades, my life was just kicks and adrenalin but it’s not fulfilling and I wasn’t happy,” he said. “If I am demonised today, who cares as long as I reach some souls?”