BELFAST (Reuters) - A British court has annulled the bankruptcy of Sean Quinn, once the Republic of Ireland’s richest man, in a victory for Irish Bank Resolution Corp which has been pursuing debts of up to 2.9 billion euros (2.4 billion pounds).
IBRC, formerly Anglo Irish Bank, which has a court order in the Republic of Ireland ordering Quinn to pay back 1.7 billion euros, had said he should be declared bankrupt in the Republic as that was the centre of his business activity.
Quinn, 64, who turned a rural quarrying operation into a 4 billion euro fortune before running up a large stake in the now failed Anglo Irish Bank, made the bankruptcy declaration in November, taking advantage of British laws which would have allowed him to go back into business in under a year.
The court in Northern Ireland ruled on Tuesday that a lease for an office in Derrylin, Northern Ireland, had been drawn up to “bolster” Quinn’s claim that the small rural village was the epicentre of a business empire that spanned concrete plants, wind farms, insurance and hotels and stretched to India.
“I do not think I can safely conclude that this was a deliberate attempt to deceive on the part of Mr Quinn but I find it is a sufficient ground for me to exercise my discretion to rescind the bankruptcy order if I had not already decided to annul it,” Justice Donal Deeny told the court.
Quinn, whose group’s headquarters were across the frontier in the Republic of Ireland border county of Cavan, said he had worked every day of his life in the Northern Irish county of Fermanagh and accused the IBRC of pursing a personal vendetta against him.
“What I heard in court was a bit peculiar. I never worked a day outside Northern Ireland in my life. I have never worked anywhere else,” Quinn told reporters outside the court.
Deeny said the lease claiming Quinn’s businesses were based in Northern Ireland was “a somewhat curious document.”
He said Quinn had also failed to disclose the fact he held an Irish passport and had no British passport, and he was a voter in the Republic where 20 percent of his taxes were paid.
Lawyers for Quinn said they wanted to study the judgement before deciding whether or not to appeal against the ruling.
IBRC will proceed with bankruptcy proceedings against Quinn in the Republic of Ireland and has succeeded in bringing forward a hearing to do so by a week to January 16 after the bank’s lawyers told a Dublin court on Tuesday that they were afraid Quinn might attempt to move unsecured assets from its reach between now and then.
IBRC, rebranded after scandal-hit Anglo was nationalised after costing the state almost 30 billion euros, has already made provision for 2.3 billion euros of Quinn’s debt and is trying to claw back the rest from the former billionaire’s international web of companies.
The low-key former tycoon has lost control of his empire, including one of Ireland’s largest insurers, to IBRC, but the bank is fighting legal battles from Hyderabad to Kiev in an attempt to keep hold of all of his assets.
Ireland has only recently cut the time needed to be discharged from bankruptcy to five years from 12, and is required under the terms of its EU/IMF bailout to bring in legislation by the end of March to further ease this duration.
The tougher laws in Ireland have prompted a number of casualties of the country’s financial crisis to go to Britain to discharge their financial affairs in a route dubbed “bankruptcy tourism.”
At its peak, the Quinn Group employed more than 5,500 people on both sides of the Irish border but the disastrous investment in Anglo shortly before it collapsed under the weight of failed property loans cost the group more than 1 billion euros.
Quinn is still regarded as a hero for creating thousands of jobs in Cavan where locals have held rallies in recent months to show their support. New executives at the Quinn Group have also been subjected to a series of attacks, including arson. Quinn has condemned the attacks.
Quinn Insurance business, which was put into administration in 2009, was recently bought by U.S. general insurer Liberty Mutual and its healthcare arm was sold to management last month in a tie-up with Swiss reinsurer Swiss Re.
Additional reporting by Sarah O'Connor in Dublin, writing by Padraic Halpin; Editing by David Holmes, David Cowell and Jane Merriman