PROFILE JP MCMANUS: The news that the Limerick businessman's foundation has donated more than €17 million to charity in the past three years seems at odds with his status as a non-resident for tax purposes, writes Colm Keena
HE HAS THE demeanour of a modest man, but has built himself what is said to be the largest home in the State. He is non-resident for tax purposes, but is one of the State’s biggest philanthropists. And he is said by those who know (a bit) about him to be pleasant and charming, but also tough and formidable when crossed.
Some see these as paradoxical aspects of the character of John Patrick (JP) McManus (58), although in truth there is no need to think so. None of those known to be close to the man talk about him to the media, but, talking off the record, people who have dealings with him paint a picture of someone who is enormously wealthy, anxious to be liked, and hugely intelligent.
“He likes to be low-key, but he likes people to notice him, to talk to him when he comes in,” says one such person. “He loves that, far more, I would say, than he lets on. I would say he loves to be loved.”
The 2008 accounts of his Irish-registered JP McManus Charitable Foundation Ltd, details of which were published this week, show it received €2.7 million in investment income and a €6 million donation from McManus during the year. It gave out €10.72 million to charities. Its assets were worth €35 million at the year’s end, down from the €52 million they were worth at the end of 2007.
The Community Foundation for Ireland named McManus the National Philanthropist of the Year in 2007, and it is easy to see why.
“He is very highly regarded by the GAA here,” according to the secretary of the Limerick County Board, Michael O’Riordan. “JP’s been a very kind sponsor, and a great Gaelic games enthusiast.”
A few years ago McManus gave €5 million towards the cost of the refurbishment of the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick, and he sponsors the county’s senior and junior hurling and football teams, as well as two others. The players don’t have his name emblazoned on their jerseys but rather the simple words: “Sporting Limerick”.
Limerick Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan, who has been on the board of McManus’s charitable foundation since its establishment in 2000, says McManus is “seen as a proud Limerick man. People appreciate the funding, the school scholarships, the golf classics. There’s a view that he’s our rich guy. Obviously, from my political perspective, we do have issues with people who live abroad, but that is a political perspective.”
She describes McManus as a “quiet, understated man” who has lots of friends “from all walks of life.” People in the horse racing world say he is famous for making the top bids at charity auctions, so much so that the organisers, when they know McManus is due to attend, give consideration to what they can put up for auction that he will find particularly attractive.
“He has horses with nearly every top trainer in the UK and Ireland,” says a horse racing insider. “His investment is enormous. He probably has about 500 horses, and they could cost up to €10 million or €15 million a year.
"It's a hobby for him, and it loses him massive amounts of money every year. I have always thought the Sunday Timesrich list seriously underestimates his wealth. I would say he is seriously wealthy."
The 2009 list somehow estimated McManus’s wealth at €483 million. He has an extensive property portfolio in the UK and elsewhere, but his investments are not known, and it is not even clear how he earns his money. He hasn’t appeared on the Irish Companies Registration Office records since 1993, when he used his address at Martinstown Stud, Kilmallock, Co Limerick. His wife still gives this as her address in the charitable foundation’s filings. McManus appears to have moved to Geneva around 1994.
SOME MENTIONhis level of charitable donation as a sort of counterweight to his tax-residency status. However, he may spend more money on his horses, which are a hobby, than he does on his charitable donations.
“He is in Geneva because it is the centre of the type of business he does,” says another who has worked with him. “Don’t ask me what he does, I don’t know. But in private he would be vociferous on that. He lives where he lives because of what he does.”
He is said to travel home to Limerick as often as he is allowed to under the residency rules, using his own private jet. He keeps a suite in the Dorchester Hotel in London, and is a part owner of the Sandy Lane hotel in Barbados with his friend, Dermot Desmond.
He told the Limerick Leaderin 2000 that he began backing horses when still attending Sexton Street CBS in the city. "I used to study the horses in the papers and I would always try and have a bet on in the big races," he said.
He left school at 17 and started work with his father’s earth-moving business. He became involved in bookmaking and then became a full-time professional gambler, losing everything on occasion and having to return to clearing fields with a JCB.
“He would think nothing of betting half a million on a horse,” says one horse racing source. “Six figures would be normal.”
He has a reputation for causing great nervousness amongst the bookmakers at Cheltenham. Asked by this newspaper in 2005 if he was a gambling addict, he said: “I was close enough, I’d say, at times in my younger life. I’m not sure. But now it wouldn’t bother me. I feel I am in control now.”
By the late 1980s he was an associate of Desmond’s. The two men featured in the affair that broke during the Haughey era concerning the purchase and sale of the old Johnston Mooney O’Brien site in Ballsbridge, Dublin. The site was bought for £4 million, and sold a year later to Telecom Éireann for £9.4 million.
John Glackin, an inspector who investigated the complicated affair, concluded that McManus had invested $1.5 million in the deal and had received £500,000 by way of profit, money which was withdrawn in cash from a bank on Dublin’s Grafton Street by Desmond and kept in a tennis holdall. Desmond and McManus rejected the finding that the money had gone to McManus. The matter has never been satisfactorily resolved.
McManus, Desmond, and John Magnier have been associates and friends for decades. They, and some others from the betting world, are at times referred to as “the syndicate”. Says the horse racing source: “They all look up to JP. He would be seen as the number one. They all listen to him. He would be seen as very sharp, very bright. He would also be ruthless, very, very tough. If you fall out with him you are in big trouble.”
McManus progressed from major league betting on horses to major league currency-exchange bets, and major league investments generally. Numerous observers have referred to his having a great mathematical brain.
It has been repeatedly said, but never confirmed, that he made a massive killing when he bet heavily against the Mexican peso in late 1994, before it devalued hugely against the US dollar.
The Palladian-style home he built in Martinstown in recent times is more than 20 times the size of a standard four-bedroom house. Last year, Limerick County Council refused permission for a lake beside the property that was to be 3.5 times the size of Croke Park, and in the shape of Co Limerick. A smaller, 1.25-acre lake was allowed.
McManus is understood to have been diagnosed with prostate cancer earlier this year, but to have been treated successfully.
CV JP McMANUS
Who is he?One of Ireland's richest tax exiles.
Why is he in the news?Because of his philanthropy
Most likely to say?"I'll put a hundred grand on each of my horses in the Gold Cup."
Least likely to say?"Who the heck is Istabraq?"