An Irish bank pursuing Ireland's former richest man for euro2.16 billion ($2.9 billion) in unpaid loans appealed Thursday to a Northern Ireland judge to overturn his bankruptcy judgment.
Justice Donal Deeny agreed to hear the case Dec. 19 between the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation and fallen tycoon Sean Quinn, who in 2008 had an estimated net worth of euro4.7 billion ($6.3 billion) but claims today to have barely euro11,000 ($15,000) left in three bank accounts.
At stake is whether Quinn and his family will be able to retain much of their fortune in property and investments beyond Ireland's shores _ and whether the beleaguered Irish taxpayer will be left to cover bills that Quinn can't or won't pay.
State-owned IBRC _ which until last month was called Anglo Irish Bank _ is seeking to reverse Quinn's 2-week-old bankruptcy judgment in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.
The 64-year-old Quinn sought shelter in British bankruptcy law just days after IBRC sued him in a Dublin court for the outstanding billions. The Belfast-filed bankruptcy, if allowed to stand, would weaken the bank's ability to pin down Quinn in Republic of Ireland courts.
The bank did win a judgment Wednesday in a Dublin court for Quinn to repay euro417 million ($560 million). The judge handling that case said he was likely next week to impose a further order for another outstanding euro1.75 billion ($2.34 billion).
But it's far from clear if either order could ever be enforced if Quinn's remaining assets are to be managed in Belfast rather than Dublin.
Quinn, a Republic of Ireland resident who lives nearby his empire's most luxurious spa hotel and golf resort, testified when seeking British bankruptcy protection that his interests were primarily in neighboring Northern Ireland. The bank argues this is false.
One of the bank's lawyers, Mark Horner, told the judge Thursday it was "absolutely critical this is dealt with as soon as possible."
Quinn lawyer Paul McLaughlin argued that his client would require months to assemble documents showing that his business interests should be amenable to British, rather than Irish, bankruptcy law. But Deeny said Quinn should have gotten that material together before filing for bankruptcy at all.
One key difference between UK and Irish bankruptcy law: Quinn could return to business within a year under the British system, whereas the Irish would bar him for a minimum of 12 years.
Quinn boasts one of the most famous rags-to-riches stories ever produced in Ireland. He grew up on a border farm in Northern Ireland, left school barely literate at 14 and started his first construction-gravel business with a 100-pound ($150) bank loan.
Within three decades Quinn had transformed his quarry into a nationwide cement company. He built and bought luxury hotels and shopping centers throughout Ireland, Britain, Eastern Europe and Asia; founded Ireland's third-largest insurance company; and took interests in glassworks, packaging and radiators.
But Quinn gambled it all on the continued success of Anglo Irish Bank, the biggest risk-taker in Ireland's long property boom. Its shares soared amid the Celtic Tiger economy and Quinn sought to build the biggest stake in its shares using a complex financial instrument that allowed him to conceal his 15 percent ownership.
When Ireland's property bubble burst in 2008, Anglo faced collapse and was rescued by the Irish government at a cost exceeding euro29 billion ($39 billion) _ the biggest single bill forcing Ireland to accept a humiliating international bailout last year.
The government this year rebranded Anglo as IBRC. Its main function today is to pursue its legions of fleeing debtors, chiefly among them Quinn.
In April IBRC seized control of Quinn's Irish-based businesses and soon sold his insurance company to the U.S. insurers Liberty Mutual.
But Quinn had already transferred ownership of key foreign assets to his children and third-party companies allegedly linked to his family circle. He and the bank are waging lawsuits in Cyprus, Sweden, Russia and Ukraine over which side should own dozens of the Quinn family's apartment blocks, shopping centers and office complexes in Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and India.
Separately, Quinn's children are suing IBRC in Dublin contending that Anglo Irish Bank committed fraud when it loaned billions to Quinn in 2007 and 2008, therefore they shouldn't have to pay any of that money back.
The key question in that dispute is whether Anglo knew it was providing billions to Quinn specifically for him to buy more Anglo shares, which were collapsing in value at the time, in a bid to manipulate the market.
Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, http://www.ibrc.ie/
Quinn business empire, http://www.quinn-group.com/