Anglo tapes ‘not voices of people of Ireland’ – Higgins

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins blasted ex-Anglo Irish Bank bankers in an impassioned speech at the annual Áras an Uachtaráin garden party today.

He said: ‘I have often spoken in the past of the terrible damage that has been inflicted on our society by the aggressive individualism and self interest of a speculative economy.

‘This week, voices from the past have been heard which serve to highlight behaviours and attitudes at the very root of that failed economic model.  They do not make for easy listening.

But let us be certain of one thing: these are not the voices of the people of Ireland; the attitudes they reveal are not shared by the people of Ireland; the behaviours they reflect are not characteristic of the people of Ireland.

‘The people of Ireland, who have borne the brunt of a financial crisis not of their making, are shocked and dismayed that a culture of greed and recklessness emerged in some of our institutions – a culture which was not in keeping with our core values as a nation.

‘The Irish people, who are rightly recognised for their fortitude, work ethic and courage, will take us out of this present crisis.

‘The authentic voice, spirit and values of Ireland will be restored and will lead us to what is important – a real economy that provides sustainable employment for all and a just and ethical society that allows all its citizens to fully participate and achieve their life potential.

‘Informed foreign opinion will recognise that the real story from Ireland is not the aberrant voices we heard this week but the heroism of its people who are determined, not only to get through this crisis, but to secure a future that is just, prosperous and sustainable.’

Michael Lynn in Poland bomb blast probe

DISGRACED developer and former solicitor Michael Lynn is feared to have been the target of a gangland bomb attack.

The fugitive was in a house in Krakow, Poland, when the blast went off. A car, that Polish police think was his, was found at the property shortly after the attack but there was no sign of the 44-year-old from Co. Mayo.

Documents detailing various property deals by his failed firm Kendar Properties were found in the vehicle.

Lynn is believed to have been visiting the house when the bomb went off. It was only after the car was searched that a link to Lynn, who left Ireland more than four years ago owing around €80million, was established.

Police initially thought he might return to the scene and reclaim the car, which has since been moved to a police car pound.

But he has not been in contact with detectives investigating the 2009 incident. They now suspect he might have actually been the target of the bomb – which may have been set off at the property in Krakow as a result of a botched business deal. Detectives do not regard him as a suspect. Instead, he is being described as a witness.

A court hearing in connection with the blast is due to be held over the coming months and authorities have been looking for an address for the developer so a summons can be served on him.

A legal source said last night: ‘We need to find Mr Lynn and speak to him about this incident and to ask him about the car that was found.

He is not being treated as a suspect. Instead, he is being considered as a witness and we have wanted to speak to him since it happened. ‘However, we do not know how to get in touch with him.’

The extraordinary twist is the latest turn of events for Lynn, who is believed to have unwittingly become associated with Eastern European gangsters during his business dealings in Bulgaria.

A file on him has been passed to the Director of Public Prosecutions with a view to issuing a European Arrest Warrant for him. He has repeatedly failed to attend meetings set up by Garda fraud squad detectives.

They now want him arrested and brought back to Ireland for questioning. The Law Society has already ordered him to pay €2million in fines.

Lynn, who was struck off as a solicitor in 2008, was also found guilty of 57 changes of misconduct by a disciplinary hearing.

In January the following year, the Irish Mail on Sunday tracked him down to a secluded villa in Portugal.

In his only interview since absconding from Ireland in December 2007, Lynn denied he was a fraudster or a fugitive. He spoke on the condition that his exact location was not revealed.

In his only interview since absconding from Ireland in December 2007, Lynn he said that he was working to pay back all his debts and he insisted that he did not retain any ownership stake in any of his developments.

The 44-year-old from Co. Mayo denied that he was a fraudster or a fugitive and insisted his only crime was getting caught up in the trappings of the Celtic Tiger, like so many others during the boom.

Lynn told the Irish Mail on Sunday: ‘Today I look in the mirror and ask myself who he was? I am disappointed that I lost some of my own fundamental principles that I was given as a young fellow.

‘I have let my family down and I have let myself down. And that’s difficult and I need to live with that all of the time. But that’s my problem, that’s my bed and I have made it.’

The missing solicitor has been accused of taking out multiple mortgages on the same properties and has estimated liabilities of some €80million.

His assets were valued at around €52.5million and he or his firms were listed as having a staggering 154 bank accounts and dealings concerning 148 properties.

Lynn is known to have visited the UK, Portugal, Bulgaria and the United States and his extensive portfolio of assets includes properties in those countries.

Breifne O’Brien estranged wife Fiona Nagle defends herself against allegations

BREIFNE O’Brien’s estranged wife Fiona Nagle last night spoke out for the first time since his pyramid scams were exposed in 2008.

In an emotional statement, Miss Nagle said she felt compelled to break her silence because of a series of allegations made against her in a creditors’ meeting yesterday.

It had been held to agree on the liquidation of Blackrock Cabs, which O’Brien had used to bankroll his lavish lifestyle.

The meeting heard allegations about the way Miss Nagle, who replaced her estranged husband as director in December 2008, had also used income from the taxi company.

But last night Miss Nagle, who was removed as a director of the Dublin firm in February, defended her running of the business.

She added that it had been her only source of income with which to support herself and her five children.

She said: ‘Having been advised of a statement made by a director in relation to my involvement in Blackrock Cabs which contained untrue allegations, I am forced to outline my involvement after my separation from my estranged husband Breifne O’Brien.

‘(When I took it over) I had five children, ranging from an infant of 6 months to a son of 18 years who was studying for his leaving certificate.

‘All of us were devastated by the revelations of my estranged husband’s business activities and the subsequent trauma to our lives.

‘In my time running Blackrock Cabs, I at all times worked in the best interests of the staff and the company’s creditors and customers.

‘I am extremely disappointed and upset at how the whole Blackrock Cabs affair has been handled.

‘The hostile approach to me, my mother and my children has been very upsetting and served no constructive purpose.’

O’Brien – once the epitome of Celtic Tiger success – came to national prominence in 2008 when he was reported to have described people who put money into his various investment schemes as ‘suckers’.

It emerged in 2008 that instead of investing all their money, he used it to pay off failed investments, pay for investments of his own and to fund a lavish lifestyle.

As well as shelling out for sports cars, designer suits and foreign holidays, O’Brien used the investors’ money to fund extravagant parties, many of which were held at his sprawling €2m home in Glenageary in south Dublin.

More than 11 former friends, including his brother-in-law, are now suing O’Brien for a total of €18m.

Yesterday, those owed money by Blackrock Cabs gasped at the creditors’ meeting when details of the amount of money flowing through its accounts were revealed.

They heard that €10m went through accounts for Blackrock Cabs between 1999 and 2009 – even though turnover during the same period was less than €5m.

Creditors also heard how payments were made from the company accounts to fund the alleged fraudster’s lavish lifestyle.

In a statement read out to creditors at a meeting held at Harcourt Hotel in central Dublin, Blackrock Cabs company director David Kearns said he conducted a review of accounts for the year 2008 and discovered ‘alarming irregularities’.

Mr Kearns said Blackrock Cabs – which had five full-time drivers and more than 40 self-employed drivers – had a legitimate turnover in 2008 of €326,000.

But he said: ‘Mr O’Brien put nearly €900,000 through his directors loan account for that year.

‘I found all sorts of payments relating to staff for his house, insurance for other businesses and payment of other loans.’

He said he also found cash payments ‘for household bills, Musgrave’s Cash & Carry, paintings for his house, foreign travel bills and bills for repairs to his personal home.

These alone amounted to €56,000.’

Mr Kearns said the remaining €850,000 ‘went through the company as a director’s loan and I have no idea what for’.

He went on to make a series of allegations against Miss Nagle. She had taken over the running of the firm in December 2008, when O’Brien’s affairs ended up in court.

He said: ‘She proceeded to pay two people who were not employed by the company but are believed to be housekeepers for her personal use.’

He said she also put through direct debits totalling around €2,000 a month, adding: ‘I was unable to find out how any of these payments related to the company.’

He claimed she had also understated the amount of money the company owed in PAYE and PRSI.

Last night Miss Nagle denied understating PAYE or PRSI and said she had made an arrangement with the Revenue Commissioners, which was drawn up by her accountant.

She said: ‘At all times while I managed the company’s affairs after December 2008, I sought and relied upon professional advices as to how the finances of the company should be arranged and dealt with further.

‘At the time of my removal from the company, I had come to a favourable agreement with the Revenue in relation to paying arrears due and for all payments going forward.’

‘My circumstances dictated that I had to take over responsibility for the operations of Blackrock Cabs in December 2008.

‘I did so at the time out of a sense of responsibility to the staff of the company, some of whom had been there for over 10 years, and to the creditors of the company.

I worked very long hours and often worked seven days a week. ‘When I assumed responsibility for the operations of the company, it was operating at a loss and the cash flow situation was precarious.

Throughout the time I was CEO, from December 2008 to January 2010, I regularly lent personal money into the company’s account to prevent it from going into unauthorised overdraft.’

She said her mother also helped out financially.

None of this details was relayed during the creditors’ meeting. At the meeting, Mr Kearns said the firm’s fixtures and fittings amount to little more than the value of scrap and he concluded: ‘This company will never be in a position to repay its creditors and is insolvent.’

The Statement of Affairs listed liabilities of €157,732, of which €77,600 is owed to the Revenue Commissioners, €18,000 to the Sheriff John Fitzpatrick and €7,132 to trade creditors.

The company’s total deficit is €102,732.

Miss Nagle is no doubt that had she been left to her own devices the company could have survived.

She said: ‘My intention when I assumed responsibility for the operations of Blackrock Cabs was firstly to stabilise the affairs of the company.

Then I wanted to put the necessary investment in place which would enable it to grow and in time realise value for the shareholders, and ensure that the company could meet its debts and discharge its creditors as they fell due.

‘My effectiveness as CEO is apparent from the company’s accounts, which show a loss-making company in 2008 moving to a break-even and marginally profitable business by December 2009.

‘The company required investment to enable it to grow its revenues and thus turn consistently profitable.

‘I had arranged two investors who were prepared to back me with my vision and commitment for the company, one of whom would have brought several large client accounts leading to a substantial jump in revenues.’

She claims, however, that due to her removal these opportunities were lost. ‘On February 2, I was removed from my position as CEO of Blackrock Cabs Limited without any notice and prevented from entering the premises or continuing its trade.

This left myself and my five children in a position where my only source of income was unilaterally cut off.

‘All in all, neither I nor my children at my mother have ever been treated or commented on in such an appalling way, where my first concern throughout my time as an employee of Blackrock Cabs was to the creditors and, most importantly, employees of the company.’

O’Brien and Ms Nagle were society darlings who hosted black-tie charity balls and mingled with Ireland’s business and entertainment elite.

But their picture perfect world came crashing down when it emerged that O’Brien was funding their lavish lifestyle by pulling ‘suckers’ into a high-stakes pyramid scheme.

The 48-year-old’s scam pulled in a number of close family and friends and led to him being dubbed ‘Ireland’s Bernie Madoff’ for running a similar ‘Ponzi’ scheme.

Once feted by Image magazine as one of the most glamorous women in Ireland, last year Ms Nagle had to ask a High Court judge for money to feed her children when her husband’s assets were frozen.

WANTED: €18m Solicitor Thomas Byrne

THE DUBLIN solicitor at the centre of a €9m bank loan probe has been ordered to attend a court hearing next Tuesday.

 

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The High Court took the unprecedented step of ordering that advertisments be placed in newspapers to publicly serve notice on Thomas Byrne  and make sure he turns up for the 11am hearing.

No bench warrent has been issued against the missing Walkinstown-based solicitor and no criminal proceedings are planned at this stage.

But staff working for IIB Bank have so far failed to serve notices on him at both his Walkinstown Road office address and what is believed to be his city centre flat on Lad Lane, off Baggot Street.

 

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Byrne is the subject of an on-going Law Society investigation and there is now a suggestion that the amount of money he owes banks or other financial institutions may be DOUBLE what IIB Bank want to talk to him about.

IIB Bank gave him €9m last month off the back of security in the shape of 20 properties he showed them deeds for, tried to get him to fax them documents on Friday when they became concerned about the nature of mortgages on some of the properties and contacted the Law Society after he failed to do so.

The Law Society ran an audit on his firm and shut it down, slapping notices on his windows saying any clients should find themselves another solicitor.

Byrne has already form for misconduct – having been found guily on eight counts last December.

City hush on new annoucement from China Real Estate Opportunities

FINANCE chiefs working with an investment vehicle backed by Irish property giants Johnny Ronan and partner Richard Barrett are remaining tight-lipped about China Real Estate Opportunities’ sudden shares suspension announcement last Friday.

A statement on the London Stock Exchange posted at 10am on December 8 simply read: “At the request of the company trading on AIM has been temporarily suspended pending an announcement.”

This is believed to be in relation to an acquisition – to follow on from Real Estate Opportunities’ announcement on November 30 that it had exchanged contracts on a £400 million deal to purchase Battersea Power Station from the Hong Kong-based Hwang Family’s wholly-owned Parkview International London Plc company.

The deal to snap up such an iconic London landmark is conditional on the approval by REO’s ordinary shareholders and Treasury Holdings, which controls 58.5% of ordinary shares in REO

REO’s Chinese arm – China Real Estate Opportunities (ChinaREO) – was established to acquire property for investment and/or development in China and began trading on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) in December 2005. Shortly beforehand Johnny Ronan, joint owner of Dublin-based Treasury Holdings – which owns a majority of shares in REO and CREO – stepped down as a director of REO.

Corporate stockbroking firm Teather & Greenwood’s investment funds MD Paul Fincham: “There is nothing unusual about last week’s shares announcement but we are unable to say anything other than watch this space.”

The reason for the suspension – the type of which an AIM source said was “both neither entirely commonplace nor overtly unusual” – is due by the end of this week.

Two days before last Friday’s statement, Treasury Holdings – which has a property portfolio in excess of €2.1 billion – was announced as Real Estate Opportunities Limited’s new manager of the company’s assets.

An Extraordinary General Meeting has also been convened for December 29, at which resolutions to enable the acquisition of Battersea Power Station to proceed will be put to ordinary shareholders.

The December 6 statement by REO – which has about €1.3 billion in assets – added: “The Board has been considering the arrangements pursuant to which it is advised in relation to the Group’s assets, particularly having regard to the fact that the proportion of the Group’s assets represented by development properties has increased over time.

“This is now more pertinent given that the Battersea Power Station site will be a significant development asset of the Group requiring substantial development expertise.

“The Board has therefore determined to appoint Treasury Holdings to act as investment adviser for all of the Group’s property assets.”

It also announced that – except for retaining INVESCO Asset Management Ltd to manage the Income Portfolio and to provide advice to the independent directors from “time to time” – INVESCO would resign as the manager of the REO group’s assets.

The statement added: “The terms upon which Treasury Holdings will be appointed by the Company in respect of the Irish property portfolio substantially replicate the terms upon which Treasury Holdings is currently retained by INVESCO and the terms upon which Treasury Holdings will be appointed in respect of the non-Irish portfolio will again substantially replicate those terms.”

ENDS

Johnny “The Buccaneer” Ronan

HE’S one half of the Irish firm behind the the €594 million purchase of iconic London landmark Battersea Power Station.

But few people on either side of the Irish sea know much about Johnny Ronan – the bearded and pony-tailed Dublin developer dubbed The Buccaneer as much a comment on the publicity-shy tycoon’s sartorial sense as it is on how some view the way the self-made pig-trader’s son conducts his business operations.

The Battersea development deal – which will cost up to more than €3 billion over ten years of various phases to conclude – is just one of many similar projects with his signature on.

As well as a €1.2 billion deal to develop a prime site in China’s Shanghai, projects run by his Treasury Holdings firm – which he co-owns with trained barrister business partner Richard Barrett – include a €4 billion development of a 52-acre Dublin docklands site called Spencer Dock on top of a string of other projects over Ireland, Europe and Russia.

He is increasingly branching out into hotels, wind farming and has shown more than a passing commercial interest in owning a radio station or two.

“chauffeur-driven metallic blue Hummer”

Although not as widely recognisable as some of the Irish Capital’s more celebrated residents like singers Bono and Enya, married father-of-three Ronan is hardly the most understated of the country’s elite rich.

He owns one of the Republic’s handful of Maybachs – his is black – and can often be seen stepping from his chauffeur-driven metallic blue Hummer, or one of his other treasured four-wheel possessions, a gleaming Mercedes McLaren SLR coupe.

His face is a regular feature at any one of a number of the best clubs, bars and restaurants and is a notable bon viveur.

What little is known about 52-year-old John Bernard Ronan’s early years is that he appears to have started in business while still in his 20s working for his late father, also called Johnny, who himself had started out as a pig-trader in Tipperary but branched out into property – developing offices in Dublin.

Johnny Jnr, who went to posh Castleknock College, later trained as an accountant at his native Waterford’s Institute of Technology, shared his father’s love of wheeling and dealing and was soon cutting his teeth on deals of his own.

Ronan first met his business partner Richard Barrett, who comes from a wealthy Mayo grain merchant family, at Castleknock but they went their separate ways – with Barrett going onto train as a barrister.

They both pursued a variety of low level property interests. Barrett would later say that despite his lack of experience in the field, he didn’t see why he shouldn’t do as well as the next person, taking the view that “there’s no degree in property development.”

“People underestimate our ability to cause chaos”

They first started working together after they bumped into each other on the same deal and decided to pool their resources and become partners. Their first big “purchase” was an office block in Dublin’s Blackrock. It’s success speaks volumes about the knack they had then for the game. They exchanged contracts on the premises and – little more than a week later – they sold them on to someone else . . . before they had even paid for them.

Treasury was formed in 1989 with their first serious development being the Treasury Building – from where the company name comes from – on Grand Canal Street on Dublin’s southside, which continues to house the National Treasury Management Agency.

They soon became a formidable force, taking advantage of a string of opportunities – which now amount to more than 50 projects in development including Spencer Dock development, phase 2 of Central Park in Leopardstown and the imminent development of 2,000 homes and an 11-acre public park near Foxrock.

But as much as their successes with Treasury, Treasury’s multitude of subsiduaries and Real Estate Oppportunities (REO) have brought them to the verge of being billionaires in their own rights, they have also earned a reputation for toughness, even ruthlessness, when it comes to business.

In a letter to a property developer who had had a few run-ins with Ronan and Barrett over a shopping mall project in the centre of Dublin – Barrett pointed out with cold understatement: “Certain opponents of ours have underestimated our ability to cause legal chaos to their detriment.”

Indeed, to date, they have stacked up more than 30 High Court actions, many of which were against other developers. Two were launched “with vigour” last year for more than €100 million damages against UK finance firms they say badly handled various transactions on their behalf.

“the backing they have got does not come to a pair of shysters”

A debate in the Irish parliament Dail also saw the pair blasted as “purveyors of untruths” – claims denied through spokesmen, who said in 2001: “It is a tough business, and to achieve the success that Johnny and Richard have achieved they are obviously tough businessmen.

“But they are also fair people, and they command the respect of the business community not just nationally but internationally. The sort of backing they have got does not come to a pair of shysters.”

It’s hardly a view shared by Irish National Trust conservation agency’s Michael Smith who has said court documentation “reveals Treasury to be as ‘cavalier, litigious and gratuitously truculent’,

And he added: “Their failure to observe the prevailing ethic has attracted comprehensive and virulent antagonism across every sector, from community to environmental to government and most interestingly to the commercial and construction sectors.”

Ronan’s stance on the future of world famous Bewley’s cafe – whose Grafton Street building he owns – has also hardly endeared him to conservationists, let alone the 22,000 people who signed a petition to save the historic watering hole. The matter is due to come to a head early next year with a five-day court hearing.

Many believe he is trying to force out the restaurant – which pays less than the going commercial rental rate for such a prime spot – in favour of plans to open a market rate-paying huge store – which some say could end up as the centrepiece of a Powerscourt Townhouse shopping mall-style development.

Ronan first came to prominence in the UK when himself and Barrett emerged as majority backers behind a £125 million bid to buy the Millennium Dome in 2001 which collapsed after English Prime Minister Tony Blair stepped in to block the sale.

Secret Service raid

As well as costing them £2 million, it attracted considerable hostility from an English press more than happy to pen sneering articles about the two Irishmen attempting to snatch what was at the time a more substantial icon than it is now as it languishes across the Thames from thriving Canary Wharf – near where Ronan’s billionaire neighbour Dermot Desmond has substantial investments.

One paper introduced the couple as the two highly ambitious Irish tycoons who thrived “more than most in the murky waters of the Dublin property market”

The Financial Times went a few leaps further and wrongly accused them in a front page article of being linked to the IRA. Barrett even claimed at the time that a break-in at a hotel he was staying in was the work of the British Security Services.

It seemed poetic justice that last week the pair again made the FT’s front page – only this time in a story about their Battersea Power Station deal. Both of them have grown thicker skins since the days of the Dome – and experience which did affect them.

Around the same time they were trying to push through the Dome deal, they were also eyeing up the ex-Taoiseach Charles Haughey’s Abbeville mansion and 230-acre estate.

In 2000, Treasury Holdings had acquired 10 acres of the Kinsealy estate for £6m – some of which helped Haughey pay off a £1.1m gift tax bill. At the time, he was facing an even bigger tax bill following investigations the Moriarty Tribunal.

However, despite their patience – and their offer of around €30 million – the former Taoiseach (who died earlier this year) instead signed a deal in 2003 for €10 million more with a rival developer he played off against them.

Privately, for Ronan though – it must have been a slap in the face because as well as effectively helping him out of a financial pickle by buying some of Haughey’s estate, he was also a man he both respected and socialised with.

“The Boys” 

The pair were frequent guests at film-maker Noel Pearson’s Christmas lunches for the ex-leader at his former home at Harcourt Terrace.

Guests at the lavish bashes included celebrated ex-soccer star-turned TV and radio pundit Eamon Dunphy – a guest at the €200,000 Enniskerry garden party bash Ronan threw at his €20 million home in Enniskerry for his daughter Jodie’s 21st birthday last November – actor Michael Colgan and Dermot “The Kaiser” Desmond.

Favourite holiday destinations for Ronan include the Riviera, where – in Saint Jean Cap Ferrat – polo-playing ex-playboy chum Oliver and wife Yona Caffrey have a hideaway.

He regularly joins them there with other friends like Abrakebabra fast food chain founder Graham Beere and Renards nightclub boss Robbie Fox.

The man is also keen on America – spending last Christmas in Miami, followed by him hosting a lavish New Year’s Eve bash in the €9,300-a-night Royal Suite at New York’s Four Seasons for guests including wife Mary, Beere, Fox and his wife Martina, and Irish-American hotel heir John Fitzpatrick.

The 52-year-old is also a regular gig-goer and close pals with the U2 entourage. Along with his model friend Glenda Gilson, Fox and Beere, he was spotted enjoying himself in the VIP section of the crowd at the last of the band’s three home-coming gigs in Croke Park in June 2005 and at the after gig bash in the Clarence Hotel.

Fox and Beere had earlier in the year attended the mammoth 72-hour party thrown to mark U2’s inauguration into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. On the flight back, the Renards owner suffered chest pains, prompting the pilot to divert the plane to Canada’s runway at Gander, Newfoundland.

But such is Ronan’s legendary largess when it comes to his pals, that it was rumoured he had sent a private jet from Dublin to Gander specially to pick Fox up for his return home. The story proved not to be true, as Fox later pointed out, saying: “As funny as the whole thing was, the story about Johnny and the private charter was the funniest. We all know that Johnny’s a generous chap but that’s just plain mad. After a good night’s rest myself and the boys were booked on a flight to London and then back to Dublin.”

As well as a regular face at charity balls, polo games, concerts and auctions, the parties he hosts at his extraordinary pink stucco modern mews in Wellington Road – the ‘pink palace’ which Hollywood actress Andie MacDowell stayed in when she was in Dublin last year to film Maeve Binchy’s Tara Road – are said to be legendary.

Wine served is invariably the best – and usually with an Irish connection, such as Lynch Bages or €150-plus bottles of French Burgundy from Montrachet.

His long list of favourite Dublin restaurants include Merrion Court’s Unicorn – a hot spot for any visiting or residing celebrity who mingle easily with local residents in a place famed for its laid back attitude towards the behaviour of some of its more celebrated clients.

Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger and Bono – who likes to dine at the bar – pop in a few times-a-year but Ronan regularly holds court on a Friday afternoon at a large round table just inside the door with what the Unicorn affectionately call “The boys”, who are made up of the likes of Desmond, Fox, Caffrey and Dunphy.

Such is the rapport owner Giorgio Casari has with his clientele, that a laid back attitude to dining decorum is adopted. Last June is probably the best example.Then tennis stars John McEnroe and llie Nastase enjoyed an impromptu game of tennis, using rolled up copies of an in flight magazine and using a bread roll as a ball, which they volleyed over the heads of fellow diners. Instead of complaining, Casari – host of what is effectively Ireland’s answer to London’s San Lorenzo – played the roll of umpire while diners cheered the couple on before giving them a standing ovation.

When not eating, working or abroad and he has some time to kill, Ronan hunts with the Ward Union Stag Hunt – whose masters include notorious developer Mick Bailey and members, the late Taoiseach Charlie Haughey. Ronan is known to head back into town to the Unicorn still clad in his riding clobber.

“Very supportive over the years.”

He is also a charitable benefactor and generous patron of the arts.  A dedicated cyclist, he takes part in an annual charity ride to France in aid of the blind and short-sighted. The gruelling Blazing Saddles Tour Du Tour Cycling Challenge raises more than €100,000 each year for the National Council of the Blind (Ireland).

A wide variety of other charities have benefited from his financial successes, including the Enniskerry parish church of St Mary’s near ‘Dargle’ – the sprawling 1,000 acre estate that is home to himself and wife Mary, and his celebrated €10 million art collection.

His new parish priest Fr John Sinnott has nothing but good to say of him, especially for his support in helping fund refurbishment work.

He said: “It would be inappropriate for me to discuss any of my parishioners, but I do know that Mr Ronan has been very supportive over the years.”

Other beneficiaries include the Irish Georgian Society, the Children’s Sunshine Home in Leapardstown, and the Bubblegum Club – which organises day trips for hospitalised children.

“a man with a generous heart”

His is also a patron of contemporary artists, including Fionnuala Collins – who was introduced to about four years ago as “an up-and-coming artist”. His first question to to her was “Are you any good?” Finn – who Ronan later commissioned to paint a portrait of a white Arabian stallion – recalled: “I cockily said I was one of the best, and he seemed to like that.

“I got the impression he really likes people who have a go at things, people with balls. If he believes you are committed to what you do, he’ll back you – especially if you can prove you are what you say you are.”

She added: “I don’t know if this makes sense, but he struck me as being a man with a generous heart and very keen to help people who want to better themselves.”

He also saved a collection of centuries old Irish poems for the nation when he shelled out €177,500 for the 400-year-old Nugent Manuscripts only to hand them over to the National Library in 1998.

The scale of his Barrett’s projects other than Battersea, Spencer Court and China – and not to mention a string of others around the country – include a plan to build 700 houses in the grounds of historic Catherine Palace near St Petersburg, Russia.

As well as the homes, they also intend building a hotel and two golf course on the palace’s 925-acre estate. They are also building gold courses and more homes on a 400-acre site near the centre of Gothenburg, Sweden,

They also have plans for 28 shops, 60 apartments and a 430-space two-storey basement car park in Sligo’s Wine Street through a Treasury subsidiary Callside Developments.

In September, Treasury Holdings bought 26% stake in Indian wind farm firm GI Power, which is planning to diversify into manufacturing wind turbines. The investment move adds to the company’s other links to alternative energy resources – like its two Eco Wind Power plants in Roscommon and Donegal, with three more currently being constructed off the coast of Wicklow in a joint venture with state forestry company Coillte.

Their move into China was first mooted while Haughey was quibbling with them over the price of Abbeville and they were under fire over their Millennium Dome deal in 2001. It was essentially Barrett’s dealings around this time that would eventually lead to the announcement in 2005 that Treasury’s global reach had extended to the Communist country with a €1.2bn deal to develop a massive resort on an island in the middle of Shanghai’s Yangtze River, the third longest in the world.

The deal, which was also spear-headed by the firm’s China president Des O’Connor – the man who brought Formula One racing to China – is the biggest of its kind of any private Western company and was signed in the presence of Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

In a partnership with Chinese firm Dontan Company, plans are said to include golf courses, hotels, restaurants, and a marina. It is Euro for Euro what the Chinese government is putting into the project, which will open in a number of phases by 2010, the year China hosts the World Expo

The government’s end of things includes constructing a massive underwater tunnel and 13km bridge – the longest in the world when complete – to link the 900-acre Chongming Island to the mainland.

At the time of Treasury’s Chinese deal, a jubilant Barrett told reporters: “This has been the culmination of long negotiations with the state authorities and it will be the first of its kind in international projects in China.”

And he added that the project will only cost Treasury 25% of what it would normally cost them if building in Ireland “so it will be a lot more profitable”.

Forced evictions 

The transaction is, however, not without its indirect association to controversy. Thousands of peasants forcibly evicted from their homes – something neither of the Treasury Holding partners would necessarily know the first thing about – in other parts of Shanghai have been “resettled” on Chongming Island over the years in the Communist government’s determination to drag what is the richest corner of the country kicking and screaming onto a far more rampant free market footing.

There have been riots on the island and a humanitarian report in 2003 described “civilisation” in Chongming County as “challenged”.

Just a few weeks ago, secret video footage flashed around the world captured gangs of armed thugs fighting pitched battles with residents refusing to leave their homes in another part of Shanghai earmarked for development.

And earlier this year, the £13 billion Three Gorges Dam – which stretches for more than a mile across the Yangtze River – was completed after an arduous project that has taken 13 years and led to more than 1.3 million people from 13 cities, 140 towns and 1,300 villages being forced to leave their homes and lands to make way for it.

“One day all this will be mine!”

Regardless of these issues in the background of their first deal on Chinese soil, more are planned and can only help cement Ronan and his schoolfriend’s reputations as global players – a sentiment not lost on their group MD Rob Tincknell.

He told an interviewer in 2005: “Treasury is quite misunderstood. People assume we’re a fairly successful Irish property company.

“The reality is that we’re a pretty sizable international real-estate machine, with valuable interests all around the world. We have significant growth plans and a very clear agenda.”

And with regard to the fact that Treasury was one of the few property companies to invest in Jurys’ Ballsbridge site, he said: “We prefer Shanghai to a few acres in Ballsbridge.”

The scale of their ambition is also perhaps illustrated by a cartoon spotted by an Irish Independent reporter in Barrett’s office during an interview in 2001.

On a wall was a framed cartoon depicting a Manhattan-esque packed cityscape of skyscrapers and over which a voice exclaims: ‘One day all this will be mine!’

And so, no doubt, will it also be his school pal Ronan’s. It’s no accident then that the centrepiece on the home page of their Treasury Holdings website is . . . a large revolving globe.

CRISPYs: Cash Rich Irish Seeking Property

THEY are Cash Rich, Irish, and Seeking Property and there are now so many that the English have come up with an acronym for them.

Property analysts have started dubbing Irish property tycoons and investment companies “CRISPYs“.

And so much money is now being spent by men like tycoons Johnny Ronan and Richard Barrett – who are behind this week’s €594.5 million purchase of iconic London landmark Battersea Power Station – that the cash is actually helping boost the English economy.

DTZ – one of the world’s largest real estate advisers – says Ireland has overtaken the United States as the single biggest cross-border investor into UK commercial property, with 75% of the money coming from private investors.

As well as corporate institutions, the firm says private developers like Derek Quinlin, Dermot Desmond and John Magnier accounted for almost 22% – €4 billion – of the total €18.2 billion value of overseas purchases in 2005.

The biggest buys of the year were Quinlan’s €802 million purchase of 3.4 acres of prime Knightsbridge real estate, Anglo Irish Assurance’s €326 million purchase of Croydon’s Whitgit Shopping Centre and Evans Randall’s €260 million purchase of London’s 250 Bishopsgate building. But the scale of the impact of purchases by Irish developers goes way beyond the initial price paid.For example, Ronan and Barrett’s development of Battersea Power Station is likely to lead to the creation of more than 4,000 jobs and cost an additional sum of around €2.9 billion over 5-10 years.The acronym CRISPY – Cash Rich Irish Seeking PropertY – first started being used by property industry insiders last year after a string of purchases by Derek Quinlan – which include the Berkeley and Savoy hotels for €1.1 billion, and the €32.6 million Donna Karan shop in Old Bond Street.But it finally hit the national headlines this week – changing into CRISPI (Cash Rich Irish Seeking Property Investments) after Ronan and Barrett’s Battersea deal.Theirs is the latest of a raft of deals by a growing group of developers that include Sean Mulryan – who had planned to bid €891 million for the Battersea Power Station but walked away because of planning restrictions on the amount of private housing permitted on the site – and The Belfry owner Sean Quinn.

Others include 36-year-old Aidan Brooks, whose purchases over the years have included the €326 million Uniliver offices in London’s Westminster, a €56.4 million Home Office building near Parliament Square and Gucci’s €7.4 million shop in posh Mayfair.

Samantha McClary, news editor at the UK property industry “bible” Estates Gazette, said last night: “Over the last few years, Irish developers have really started buying up large amounts of UK property and we started noticing agents referring to them as CRISPYs.

“It’s a term of endearment and marks a complete shift in attitude towards the Irish from the days decades ago when you were more likely to find Irishmen building rather than owning such prime real estate.

“The joke now is that if you don’t actually know who is behind a property deal in the UK, you just say there is an Irish person involved because nowadays, there tends to be an Irish investor lurking somewhere in the deal.”

Trevor Gill, Associate Director, International Investment at DTZ Sherry Fitzgerald, said: “Whilst some Irish investors are looking elsewhere for commercial property investments due to the recent movement in yields, overall there appears to be little sign of a fall off in demand from Irish Investors who are looking to take advantage the growth prospects for London.

“The drivers for this demand continue to include the positive rental growth story for the UK, a lack of available product in the Irish market, the availability of finance from Irish lending institutions for UK property transactions and a familiar market.”

Richard Holberton, from leading real estate specialists CB Richard Ellis added: “Irish investors have accounted for nearly 10% of Central London office investment acquisitions in the past two years.

“While the combination of falling investment yields and increases in the cost of borrowing is something of a deterrent for highly-geared purchasers, Irish investors remain a significant presence in the market.”

ENDS