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How the jewel in the Quinn Group crown lost its shine

Quinn Insurance and Anglo Irish Bank have been locked in an embrace for several years - an embrace that has had deadly effects on the two organisations which were once seen as Ireland's most dynamic bank and mould-breaking insurer.

The unhealthy relationship first came to light three years ago when it emerged that the family of Sean Quinn had begun building up a stake in Anglo Irish Bank.

At the time, the move to link the successful Quinn family to the bank was seen as a masterstroke.

In July 2008, the Quinns disclosed they had a 15% stake in Anglo held through a complex financial mechanism known as Contracts for Difference (CFDs).

In effect, CFDs are bets over the value of the share price - with the buyer betting that the share price will increase.

The beauty of CFDs is that stakes can be built up in secret.

However, if the share price goes down, the buyer has to buy the shares at their full price. This is what happened with the Quinn stake in Anglo.

The news of the 15% stake shocked many observers, who knew the Quinns must have lost money because Anglo shares had been in freefall for more than a year.

As Anglo shares started to tumble, the family was obliged to buy the shares at the full price and, therefore, by July 2008 the Quinn family owned a direct 15% of the bank.

Anglo lent Quinn the money to convert their CFDs into shares - binding the Quinns and Anglo at the hip to this day. It is estimated that the Fermanagh-based family's raft of companies borrowed about €2.5bn from Anglo.

Three months later, the Republic's financial regulator revealed that the Quinns had taken a €288m loan from their Quinn Insurance company to fund the Anglo investment - without seeking regulatory approval.

The watchdog slapped a €3.25m fine on the insurer and a €200,000 penalty on Mr Quinn personally. Mr Quinn agreed to step down from the board of the firm.

It later emerged that the Quinns secretly held a further 10% stake in Anglo and that the bank's top management, the financial regulator and Dublin's Department of Finance had been seriously worried about this stake for months before the July deal.

The big fear was that it could further destabilise an already imperilled Anglo Irish - and, therefore, the Republic's entire financial system.

Anglo and the Quinns were left wondering what to do with the remaining 10% stake.

Anglo executives began trawling the world for investors. Pension funds and oil-rich state wealth funds in the Middle East turned up their noses at the thought of buying the stake and this prompted Anglo to enlist the so-called Golden Circle of Anglo clients to take over the stake.

This deal, and the fact that Anglo funded it with €451m of loans, is under investigation by the Garda fraud squad and Dublin's office of the director of corporate enforcement.

On Tuesday, the day the Republic's Finance Minister, Brian Lenihan, announced that Anglo requires €18bn to stay afloat - €8bn of it this week - the regulator had an administrator appointed to Quinn Insurance. It had been the jewel in the crown of the broader Quinn Group.

Anglo and other lenders, who are owed €1.3bn, will now be on heightened alert for the fallout on this.

How and when the tangled interests of Anglo and Quinn Insurance can be separated remains to be seen.