Monday, January 16, 2012

Ireland's former richest person declared bankrupt

Thanks to Matt for passing this along.

DUBLIN - A famed entrepreneur who was once rated Ireland's richest person was declared bankrupt Monday as a bank pursues him for debts exceeding €2.1 billion ($2.7 billion).

Lawyers for tycoon Sean Quinn withdrew his opposition to a Republic of Ireland bankruptcy order sought by the former Anglo Irish Bank, the reckless lender at the center of Ireland's calamitous property crash.

The bankruptcy judgment will force a thorough court investigation of Quinn's finances, which the bank hopes will reveal capital and assets that it can reclaim from Quinn, his wife and five children.

Quinn, 64, didn't attend Monday's court hearing. He issued a statement accusing the bank of pursuing "a personal vendetta" and declaring that the "judgment in no way improves Anglo's prospects of recovering money for the taxpayer."

Quinn had a reported 2007 net worth of €4.7 billion ($6 billion) but sank much of his fortune into Anglo months before the bank — the most aggressive lender to Ireland's construction barons — suffered crippling losses as the country's decade-long property bubble burst.

The Quinn family secretly built up to a 28 percent stake in Anglo shares using an ill-regulated financial instrument that hid the scale of their investment from other stockholders. As Anglo's share price plunged, Quinn says the bank encouraged his family to borrow hundreds of millions specifically to buy more Anglo stock, a charge the bank denies.

Quinn boasts one of Ireland's most celebrated rags-to-riches stories. He grew up on a border farm in Northern Ireland's County Fermanagh, 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, pubs, apartment complexes and commercial properties throughout Ireland, Britain, Eastern Europe and Asia; founded Ireland's third-largest insurance company; and took interests in glassworks, packaging and radiators.

In April 2011, IBRC seized ownership of his Irish-based Quinn Group, forced him and relatives off the board, and sold a majority stake in his insurance company to U.S. insurance company Liberty Mutual. In November, shortly after Quinn had secured a surprise bankruptcy-protection order in Belfast, the bank won Dublin court judgments totaling €2.16 billion ($2.7 billion) against Quinn.

A November affidavit from Quinn recorded he had less than €11,000 ($15,000) in cash in three bank accounts.