Northern Ireland news

Roots to fallout which saw Sean Quinn leave role at Quinn Industrial Holdings

In the second day of a two-part news special, The Irish News speaks to two QIH executives about the background to efforts by a group of businessmen to save the former Quinn Group companies

(clockwise from left) Sean Quinn, Quinn Industrial Holdings headquarters in Derrylin. Co Fermanagh and Kevin Lunney who was brutally attacked  

ONE interpretation of the dispute between Sean Quinn and some of those involved in the buyout of the former Quinn Group centres on his belief that his former lieutenants did not stick to an agreed plan - a belief the men say is not true.

Leaked documents and a secret recording expose a disagreement that revolved around what Mr Quinn claimed was verbally promised to his family as the deal was struck between a group of Irish businessmen and three American private equity companies.

In a letter to Sean Quinn in May 2016, the American investors cut to the heart of the matter: "...rooted in your disagreement with QBRC and the [QIH] management team [is] over whether their equity was for your account or theirs.

"QBRC and the management team have confirmed on multiple occasions that they were never holding their equity on behalf of you or your family. We further note that QBRC has been very open and public about their mandate of maintaining jobs and local management of the former Quinn businesses."

It's important to first understand the roots of the fallout.

Sean Quinn had built a hugely successful group of companies with a coterie of trusted managers.

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Three of these men - Kevin Lunney, Liam McCaffrey and Dara O'Reilly - were made redundant from the company in 2011, on the same day their former boss lost the keys to the multi-billion pound empire he had built from scratch on his family farm in Derrylin, Co Fermanagh.

He had made a disastrous investment in Anglo Irish Bank shares and as a result the Quinn Group would be put into state receivership.

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Fast forward to December 2014 and Mr Lunney, Mr McCaffrey and Mr O'Reilly had helped broker a deal with three American private equity groups to return parts of the former Quinn group under their management. It would be called Quinn Industrial Holdings or QIH.

Mr McCaffrey, the chief executive of QIH, said his involvement in this deal was to bring the former Quinn Group back under local management and thus help to secure and create jobs in the local area.

If the upshot of this was that Mr Quinn - who initially returned as a consultant to QIH - would find himself in a position at some point to buy the shares in the business back, then Mr McCaffrey said "we would have been very receptive".

Mr McCaffrey and Mr O'Reilly said there was "no discussion with or commitment to Sean Quinn or any member of his family" in relation to transferring their shares to them.

The deal had been facilitated by three Irish businessmen who had been brought together by Mr Quinn to form Quinn Business Retention Company (QBRC). These men were Ernie Fisher, John McCartin and John Bosco O'Hagan.

QBRC was the vehicle created to front the local side of the acquisition.

The three QBRC directors and eight QIH shareholders, including Mr O'Reilly, Mr Lunney and Mr McCaffrey, would own 22 per cent of shares as part of the deal.

They did not put any of their own equity into the business and their shares were non-voting which carried heavily restricted rights (customary in private equity agreements) including restrictions on any transfer to third parties.

It would create Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH). The remaining 78 per cent of shares were in American hands.

The three QBRC directors - who would not be involved in the day-to-day running of the company - also said that they had agreed to form the company with the aim of securing local jobs.

They had hoped when the deal was completed that at some point in the future Mr Quinn - who had been declared bankrupt and was in the midst of a long and bitter litigation in Dublin - would be in a position to become the controlling shareholder of the company.

When the time was right, they would gift their personal shares to the Quinn family or come to some sort of arrangements to cover their costs.

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A source close to the Quinn family said they reneged on their agreement with Mr Quinn and the family. The directors said this was just not true.

Mr O'Hagan and Mr McCartin said Mr Quinn had made his position in the company untenable by his actions and in effect ended any ambitions to reinstate him as a majority shareholder.

Mr Quinn would call for Mr McCaffrey and Dara O'Reilly to resign.

A source close to the Quinn family claimed that these men had made Mr Quinn's position as consultant impossible by excluding him from decision-making meetings.

Sean Quinn was upset that the American investors had no knowledge of QBRC's plan to try to help him become the controlling shareholder of the company when the time was right.

In a letter to the American owners of QIH in May 2016, he wrote: "All that I will say on this matter is that you should be aware that we would not make up such a story and I can confirm that the family and I have been assured by all shareholders on several occasions that the shares are held for the family. Indeed, the shareholders have chaired public meetings to specifically confirm to management and local community leaders that the shares are held for the Quinn family."

Mr Quinn qualified that the relationship with the directors could be repaired if "commercial discussions" were held.

A source close to the family said: "The Quinn family are not going to start paying them. All these shares were promised to the Quinn family."

A meeting between QBRC directors Mr McCartin, Mr Fisher and Mr O'Hagan and concerned middle-management in December 2015 - which was recorded without their knowledge - showed the frustration these men had begun to feel with Mr Quinn.

The American shareholders were becoming increasingly agitated and in a letter to Mr Quinn in May 2016 would complain: "We have asked you on multiple occasions to seek to rebuild your relationship with our management team and QBRC, yet you have indicated that a rebuilding of this relationship is dependent on you achieving your goals of ownership and control...

"As we hope you understand, we cannot have you engaged as a consultant or actively involved in the business while you openly disparage our management team."

Tony Lunney: 'It was just a complete ball of flames'

That same month Mr Quinn would agree with the American investors that his consultancy position was untenable and resigned.

Mr Quinn said earlier this month, in an interview with Channel 4 News, that since the brutal abduction and attack on QIH's chief operating officer Kevin Lunney he no longer harbours any ambition to return to the company.

He denied knowing about, commissioning, or sanctioning the abduction and torture of Mr Lunney.

Sean Quinn has condemned the attack on Kevin Lunney

He said: “I’d have no hand, act or part or no knowledge or no gain; I’d have no benefit of doing anything to Kevin Lunney. Kevin Lunney and I were good friends for years.”

Sean Quinn was also anxious to highlight the anger in some parts of the community at how he was treated.

“The locals are also very angry about what they’ve done to me: throwing me out the gate, giving me nothing, sacking me. They’re very, very angry.”

“I’d think somebody with a high IQ would know that Sean Quinn is not a real fool. And that he would know that if something would have happened to Kevin Lunney, that people would be looking in his direction. Wouldn’t I know that? So, unless they consider me a real idiot, there’s no way that I could allow that to be done in my name.”

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