ZOZIMUS

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - ANALYSIS - LIAM COLLINS

IF there were skele­tons to be found around Dublin on Tues­day night they were on the back wall of the Col­lege of Sur­geons’ new atrium or be­tween the cov­ers of Mau­rice Man­ning’s novel, The Kilderry Files, which was launched with some fan­fare by our for­mer Taoiseach, Enda Kenny.

Faced with “a wall of in­tel­li­gence”, as he put it, Kenny en­ter­tained the Fine Gael blue­bloods (and the odd FFer) plus as­sorted friends of the au­thor with quotes from the novel telling us that Man­ning is some­thing of an afi­cionado of pub­lic house snugs, Sam­buca in Nico’s and ‘would be’ nuns haunt­ing the bar of the now closedup Larry Mur­phy’s.

Side­tracked about one char­ac­ter in the novel, a bishop “who knows about power and how to wield it”, he told us of his visit to the Vat­i­can, where he said the eyes of Pope Fran­cis “lit up” when Enda spoke to him about t he Ar­gentina soc­cer team of 1978. Per­haps not sur­pris­ing given the mood about the Catholic Church in Ire­land at the time.

We also heard of other events which, he said to the amuse­ment of some, oc­curred “long be­fore the Taoiseach had a Spe­cialised Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Unit”. Mix­ing in the col­lege’s York Street premises were lu­mi­nar­ies such as Chief Jus­tice Frank Clarke, for­mer am­bas­sador Sean Don­lon, AIB chair­man Michael Somers, busi­ness­man Mark FitzGer­ald, ac­coun­tant Des Peelo, peace process pi­o­neer Martin Mansergh, the for­mer Laois Of­faly TD Tom En­right (who got a well-de­served men­tion) and many oth­ers.

The au­thor thanked mem­bers of the ‘Hy­pother­mia Club’, some of whom, like the late PJ Mara, have pos­si­bly turned up be­tween the pages of The Kilderry Pa­pers as fic­tional char­ac­ters. Miss­ing in ac­tion was for­mer judge Nicky Kearns — man­ning the Gate, per­haps. ZOZIMUS was cu­ri­ous as to the iden­tity of Feni­ton Prop­erty Fi­nance Des­ig­nated Ac­tiv­ity Com­pany (DAC) which has ac­quired a €1m loan be­long­ing to Gay Byrne and his fam­ily, raised through Derek Quin­lan.

The loan was orig­i­nally given to the ‘Clonskeagh Part­ner­ship’ by Bank of Scot­land, which has es­caped much of the blame for com­ing into the Irish fi­nan­cial market, un­der­cut­ting ev­ery­body else (a move wel­comed by the com­men­tariat) and then creep­ing away from the wreck­age and selling its cus­tomers down the river by flog­ging their loans to the high­est bid­der. But that, as they say, is an­other story.

Feni­ton DAC, which has no em­ploy­ees but has €351m in prop­erty loans, ac­quired the as­sets of Bank of Scot­land on Novem­ber 19, 2015, rais­ing the money through loans and, in­trigu­ingly, “a pri­vate in­vestor”. We hope when the case comes be­fore the Com­mer­cial Court, where it was as­signed last week, we will be told who that wealthy pri­vate in­vestor now is?

Feni­ton it­self is ul­ti­mately owned by USAbased CarVal In­vestors LLC, founded in Min­neapo­lis in 1987, which has a lot of pleas­ant look­ing, clean-shaven ex­ec­u­tives on its taste­fully de­signed web­site. They have a very nice way of de­scrib­ing their call­ing. “We are,” they say, “fo­cused to­day on market dis­lo­ca­tion glob­ally.”

To put it less primly, they’re a vul­ture fund — but then high fi­nanciers, no mat­ter their na­tion­al­ity, are never good at call­ing a spade a spade. Last Thurs­day sen­a­tors jumped at the op­por­tu­nity to praise their favourite corner shops dur­ing a de­bate on the more ridicu­lous as­pects of the Pub­lic Health Al­co­hol Bill.

“Uisce beatha, the wa­ter of life, has been an in­te­gral part of Irish life for cen­turies,” thun­dered Paul Cogh­lan (clearly a con­nois­seur of the ball of malt), dis­miss­ing ideas of beer cur­tains and iron grills in lo­cal Cen­tras, Spars and Galas in his beloved Kerry and be­yond.

Sen­si­ble man that he is, he doesn’t want hard­pressed ru­ral shop­keep­ers to have to ‘wall up’ parts of their premises in a pre­tence that al­co­hol no longer ex­ists, es­pe­cially in ru­ral Ire­land where the lo­cal corner shop is the only place where the lo­cal farmer can get a bot­tle of wine for the wife be­fore they set­tle down to watch the Late Late.

Wine buff Michael McDow­ell then weighed in with praise for his lo­cal Cen­tra in Rooskey (near the hol­i­day home), not to men­tion var­i­ous corner shops in D4 where he lives much of the time and can pick up a bot­tle of his favourite tip­ple.

“Their se­lec­tion is not some­thing for our great con­nois­seurs such as Deputy Gerry Adams, who would pay €30 a bot­tle,” he added mys­te­ri­ously. This led to some de­bate about the tastes of the Sinn Fein leader, who briefly held down a real job as a bar­man, and now ap­pears to be some­thing of an oenophile.

It seems that Health Min­is­ter Si­mon Har­ris — who looks like he’d have to bring his iden­tity card to get served in most pubs — is go­ing to bring back a sen­si­ble gov­ern­ment amend­ment that will make al­co­hol “less vis­i­ble”, but fall short of the ridicu­lous no­tion of hid­ing it be­hind bars. WHAT a lot of hot air the so-called Par­adise Pa­pers have gen­er­ated.

Of course it’s amus­ing to learn that a few of Mrs Brown’s boys have a trust fund in Mau­ri­tius, that you don’t have to pay VAT if you buy your pri­vate jet through the Isle of Man and that Bono — apart from shift­ing his roy­alty pay­ments to Hol­land to avoid taxes in Ire­land — also in­vests in Lithua­nian shop­ping cen­tres.

But the bot­tom line is that it’s all per­fectly le­gal tax avoid­ance — even if some of it comes under the head­ing of the newly-minted term “ag­gres­sive tax avoid­ance”.

Who needed the Par­adise Pa­pers to tell them about tax avoid­ance — when al­most any­body who can prac­tise it, in­clud­ing the of­fended me­dia types, do?

Walk down the Lif­fey and look at the cathe­drals of com­merce that line the old river and you’ll re­alise that tax avoid­ance is a big busi­ness in Ire­land and else­where. That’s why you have ‘pri­vate’ bank­ing, cor­po­rate lawyers, tax con­sul­tants and ad­vis­ers. Ev­ery major deal that is ever done is closely ex­am­ined by these pro­fes­sion­als for the ‘tax im­pli­ca­tions’. Noth­ing new there! The vaults of Ire­land’s banks and pro­fes­sional of­fices are stuffed with stuff that would prob­a­bly leave the Par­adise Pa­pers in the ha’penny place, but we’ll never know for cer­tain. The one time we did find what was re­ally go­ing on, when Zozimus with a lit­tle help from a friend, un­cov­ered the DIRT scan­dal and ram­pant tax eva­sion (very dif­fer­ent from avoid­ance) in ev­ery bank in the land two decades ago. What hap­pened? The banks even­tu­ally got a slap on the wrist and be­tween them­selves and their cus­tomers coughed up a bil­lion euro or so to see it all go away.

Zozimus is still wait­ing from Rev­enue to call around and buy him a pint or two!

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