Belfast Telegraph

Quinn battle with bank over property referred to Europe

By Laura Noonan and Ray Managh

The €500m (£429m) international property battle between the Quinn family and Anglo Irish Bank could take up to two years to progress after a High Court judge referred the matter to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The surprise decision handed down by Mr Justice Frank Clarke this week came after the Quinn family asked him to relinquish jurisdiction in the case in favour of the courts in Cyprus, where the Quinns are pursuing a similar action.

Mr Justice Clarke dismissed the Quinns' argument that there was an "exclusive jurisdiction" clause in the agreement between Anglo and the family that meant the case ought to be held in Cyprus, but agreed to seek guidance from the ECJ on another of the family's arguments.

According to the Quinns, the courts in Cyprus were "first seized" of the matter since the family lodged papers there about the international property row before Anglo launched its action.

On Tuesday, Mr Clarke pointed out that another related action was lodged by the Quinns in Dublin before the Cyprus case was commenced.

The first Dublin action involves the Quinns' claim that Anglo's seizure of the Quinn Group was invalid because the guarantees invoked stemmed from loans that were granted for the "illegal purpose" of supporting Anglo's own share price.

The Cyprus and second Dublin actions both involve the Quinns' international property assets, rather than the Quinn Group itself, but the family is claiming the invalidity of the loans on the same basis used in the international property cases.

The relevant European legislation gives "little or no guidance" on what course or action a court should take in the particular circumstances, Mr Justice Clarke said as he signalled his intention to apply to the ECJ for "definitive guidance".

The ECJ's advocate general can take up to two years to give guidance, though the process may be swifter if an advocate general opinion is not sought. The Irish proceedings are effectively on hold.

The news means that an "interlocutory" injunction Anglo secured in the summer remains in place since the proceedings are still "in existence", Mr Justice Clarke said.

The injunction prohibits the Quinns from interfering with the international portfolio or frustrating Anglo's efforts to use the properties to offset the Quinns' €2.8bn (£2.4bn) debt to the bank.

The Quinns have also obtained a separate injunction in Cyprus preventing Anglo from interfering with the properties, freezing the portfolio.

Anglo claimed the Quinns have attempted to "denude" the bank from assets it has a claim over by moving them out of their original companies to a "mirror structure" to benefit Quinn grandchildren.