IT WAS an act that was as brutal as it was disturbing and this weekend there will be many still wondering what drove multimillionaire Patrick Rocca to end his life last Monday morning.
There will doubtless also be friends and family of the 42-year-old property developer who will be asking themselves if there was anything they could have done in the days and weeks before he shot himself while his wife, Annette, took his two sons, Patrick and Stuart, to school.
One such friend is respected solicitor Gerald Kean. The two men had known each other for more than 20 years and had last seen each other just before Christmas.
‘I am still coming to terms with what has happened,’ said Mr Kean last night.
‘One thing I ask myself is whether there was anything I could have done to stop him. I don’t think there is because there was absolutely no indication that there was anything wrong – none whatsoever.
‘You really couldn’t meet a more generous and devoted husband and father. He adored his wife and was utterly devoted to his children.’
This is underlined by the fact that Patrick – whose sister is singer Van Morrison’s partner – was described as being on ‘really good form’ on the Saturday before he took his life.
Before retiring to the exclusive members’ club, Residence, he and Annette had had dinner with friends in a central Dublin eatery. And on the night before he shot himself, he had dined out at their local, The Angler’s Rest.
The couple – whose friends included tycoon Alan Sugar and ex-US president Bill Clinton – were well-known faces on the Dublin social circuit and regularly graced the pages of various gossip columns, which reverentially covered their every outing, from one glitzy charity soirée to the next.
With expensive cars, a north Co. Dublin mansion, a holiday home in Marbella, Christmases in Dubai and New Years in New York – not to mention a property portfolio reputed to be worth €400m – Patrick was very much a poster boy for the thrusting generation of achieving go-getters who epitomised Celtic Tiger Ireland.
The car park used by most of his associates, friends and family at the funeral in Castleknock, north Dublin, last Wednesday was packed with top-of-the-range BMWs, Mer-cedes, Jaguars and Porsches.
But while Mr Rocca and the friends who mourned him had enjoyed all the trappings of wealth and conspicuous consumption, his world had been unravelling at an increasing pace throughout 2008.
Within hours of his tragic death, reports circulated that speculated on whether or not Mr Rocca’s financial affairs may have contributed to his decision to end his life. On Friday night, however, his widow issued a statement denying this.
In a statement issued through her lawyers, she said: ‘Callous speculation on why or how he took his own life and misinformed commentary on his financial affairs were deeply hurtful to all of us.
‘As recently as last week, Patrick had a meeting with his advisers and based on the details discussed at that meeting, there are no significant financial issues that would have affected him or his business prior to his death.’
An Irish Mail on Sunday investigation has revealed a rather troubling picture of his finances.
While he may have suffered depression, and there is little way of knowing what led him to such a final act, it seems impossible to imagine that the state of his finances would have had no impact on his state of mind.
Informed sources say the businessman – grandson of the Italian marble tycoon and founder of Rocca Tiles, Egidio Rocca – had invested €25m in Anglo Irish shares. This information has been backed up by a well-placed source in the financial sector.
As the bank lurched from one crisis to another in recent months, Mr Rocca can only have watched with more nail-biting anxiety than most as the value of his shares – and his investment in the same institution that had bankrolled some of his property deals – went into a sustained freefall.
As well as the imminent nationali-sation of the bank, the confused messages from the Government about whether or not anybody owing the bank more than €20m could or could not take any funds out of their Anglo Irish accounts cannot have helped.
According to 2007 company accounts, Mr Rocca also left behind millions of euro in company debt.
Of his eight Irish companies, the latest accounts show a total of 15 outstanding loans, two of which were due to Anglo Irish Bank.
Security for those loans includes properties in Sandycove, south Dublin, Holbrook House on Holles Street in Dublin and land in Sligo.
There was little more than €6,000 in cash between the companies and it appears that almost all of them either owed money to or were owed money by subsidiaries of his own Dublin-based parent company, Accorp Properties Ltd.
Holbrook House Properties, for example, was owed €15.4m, while another firm, Holbrook House Ltd, owed €20m in loans, of which €2.8m was owed to any one of a number of Mr Rocca’s own firms.
A trawl of his British directorships reveal a string of massive credit agreements with a range of British-and European-based banks.
For example, Riverway (Stoke) Ltd owed €20m, of which more than €3m was due ‘within a year’. That company had less than €10 in cash in the bank.
So concerned were the auditors of one of his main property companies – Accorp (UK) Ltd – that they noted three years in a row that there was ‘material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.’
Even Mr Rocca’s own home has a mortgage charge still outstanding on it with National Irish Bank, which dates back to May 2007.
He had paid IR£232,000 for the property in 1994. Although he paid this ICS Building Society loan off in 1995, he took out a string of other loans against the property, including one for IR£71,000 in 1995.
Each of these loans against the property was eventually paid off – but was always replaced with another on exactly the same date.
In total, it appears that Mr Rocca’s firms – while asset-rich before the recent shares and property crashes – owed more than €600m in loans.
The book values for his assets – according to the latest records for his various accounts – were set at around E670m. However, at least €125m was made up of ‘investments’ and ‘stocks’, as well as €39m which was owed to one set of companies in the group by another set of his own companies.
Given that most of the assets mentioned in accounts currently filed relate to 2007 figures, it is unlikely that the assets would be worth anywhere near as much in 2009.
Also, given what we now know about his Anglo Irish Bank shares, it remains to be seen on what – other than his own properties – he based his ‘investment’ and ‘stock’ values.
Worse still, last October 20, an employee of auditor Grant Thornton turned up at Bristol District Court in Britain and lodged a notice that one of Mr Rocca’s companies – Sunberry Properties Ltd – had gone into administration. The company had little more than €2,400 cash in the bank and owed more than €20.5m to creditors, the biggest of which was Credit Suisse.
Not all of his business dealings were for his or wife Annette’s benefit. He also made provision for the future financial security of his two sons.
So confident was he of the success of his property acquisitions in 2005 that he set up a credit agreement worth €61m with Credit Suisse.
The agreement appears to have been based on the value of his shares in a Jersey-based company, although the transaction shows up in Accorp (UK) Ltd.
The deal was signed off in favour of his two boys, with the heavily-mortgaged shares in the company being held in trust for their benefit.
However, as the value of his investments plummeted, Mr Rocca found himself taking out a number of loans to keep his network of more than 20 companies afloat.
The fact that so many of his friends and associates were deeply shocked by his death points to the fact that he must have kept the full extent of his financial problems hidden from them.
Quiet, polite and at times even shy, Mr Rocca was more likely to be seen to the side of – and almost in the shadow of his – more glamorous socialite wife, Annette.
Indeed, on January 8 this year, the couple filed annual returns on a new company they had founded, listing him as secretary and her as a director.
Mr Rocca set up Investmedia PR Ltd as a vehicle for his purchase of a 12.5pc share in RSVP magazine, where the woman who happily admits to deserving a ‘PhD in high-street shopping’ was subsequently appointed the fashion editor.
It was an unlikely investment by somebody wedded to property deals but – as many of his friends have said – he was utterly devoted to his wife.
Nevertheless, it appears that there was another side to Mr Rocca. While he could be affable in social situations, a little-heard-of court case in 2001 offered a rare glimpse of his approach to settling debts.
Around that time, his family’s tiles business was going into liquidation and he was borrowing heavily to fund property deals.
According to a local newspaper’s report of court proceedings in March of that year, Mr Rocca is said to have turned up at the offices of a Waterford building firm in 2000 to collect a debt – bringing with him a thick-set man in a black leather jacket.
Negotiations over the €71,000 debt didn’t go well. During the two-hour meeting, Mr Rocca was said in court to have lost his temper and shouted at building contractor Patrick O’Connor, demanding cash or a cheque.
At one point, the court heard, he banged his fist on the boardroom table so hard that his expensive watch flew off after Mr O’Connor had told him he simply didn’t have the full amount his firm owed.
After Mr Rocca had eventually left the premises, Mr O’Connor claimed in Waterford District Court that the man in the black leather jacket – a Croatian – turned to him and ‘rubbed’ his head, before telling him he had ‘a lovely head for a bullet’.
The man – who admitted in court that he regularly accompanied Mr Rocca on trips – then told Mr O’Connor: ‘I will find your wife and children by the weekend.’
Mr O’Connor told the court he was so concerned about what had happened that he contacted gardaí over the alleged threat and claimed that he even hired a private security firm to mount surveillance on his house.
The Croatian, who was living at an address in Lucan, Co. Dublin, at the time, vigorously denied Mr O’Connor’s version of events. After nearly three years of legal process, the case against him was struck out.
However, regardless of what did or didn’t happen that day, the builder’s debt to Mr Rocca was paid off in full.