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Dublin: 17 °C Saturday 23 August, 2014

Column: Nick Leeson on why Seán Quinn is in denial

This week, the former trader says that he was most interested in how the former richest man in Ireland has been performing under media scrutiny…

Nick Leeson

LIKE MANY I was absolutely astounded by the show of support that Sean Quinn recently received at a rally in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan.

I was amazed that five thousand people, several of whom were well known, could be moved or even bothered enough to turn up to laud someone who was, in my opinion, part of the business elite that ruined this country. I have never paid the story too much attention but the announcement during the week that he was to interview for Vincent Browne was one that piqued my interest.

There is no doubt that Sean Quinn was a very successful businessman and job creator for a large period of his life but his fall from grace has been equally spectacular and the personal impact that has had on Mr Quinn was of particular interest.

I suppose that I have been in some similar situations. I was feted for my successes, I enjoyed the trappings of wealth, I gambled with large sums of money – in my case, none of it my own – and ultimately failed causing the collapse of at least one bank. I may be simplifying the situation somewhat but there are parallels.

I’ve also often been interviewed by the media and I have been angry and dismayed at some of the misrepresentation that has sometimes occurred but ultimately I am accepting that they usually get it right. My first real media interview was when I was on remand in Hoechst Prison, just outside of Frankfurt. Sir David Frost was interviewing me for his ‘Breakfast with Frost’ series of programmes.

“Extremely daunting”

It was extremely daunting. I was very nervous and I had no idea where the conversation would lead. My lawyer was present, as I am sure those of Mr Quinn were, and those of TV3. By that stage I knew that I was going to prison and to some extent had come to terms with that but I was struggling very badly with where I would be incarcerated and for quite how long.

Sir David, it has to be said, gave me fairly easy passage during the interview; Vincent Browne, whilst admitting afterwards that he found Mr Quinn impressive, was far more aggressive in the part of the interrogation that we saw.

I’ve seen many of the clips of my interview since then. There was a lot of fidgeting as I squirmed in my seat, nervous laughs and a wry smile that was completely out of place. We all deal with stress very differently and there is not much more stressful than being interviewed on television. Seán Quinn was far more polished than I. As the Chairman of such a large organisation I have no doubt that he has received media training in the past. Apart from obvious discomfort at the beginning of the conversation, he was focused and performed; as it was a performance, he performed very well.

Seán Quinn has had a lot of time to prepare and has obviously spent many hours with his lawyers, continually questioning the legality of the loans while avoiding questions on the legality of his own attempts to distance his assets. Both issues will have their day in court. Seán Quinn is nothing but dogged in defence of his position. He appears to have practised it so often that he may well even believe it himself but a cursory glance at the facts would suggest that he is still in a state of denial.

I know; I’ve been there! Coming to terms with your own failure is probably the most difficult thing to do, especially when you are so used to success. As much as Mr Quinn makes the right noises in regard to questions regarding his own culpability, they are less convincing than his vehement defence of his position in relation to the assets and his easy-blame transference to the bank. He accepts that he should have been sanctioned over company monies that he used to pay his CFD margin calls, he accepts that he should have been removed as Chairman but on both counts if that is the extent of his punishment, I think he has been very lucky.

“Extremely risky”

Contracts for Difference (CFDs) are highly leveraged investment vehicles. They are extremely risky and used incorrectly, extremely dangerous. A €1 investment can gain you a €10 exposure to the markets. Seán Quinn used these instruments aggressively and recklessly, acquiring effectively a 25 per cent stake in Anglo Irish Bank through gambling on CFDs to the tune of €900 million.

For a while, like many bankers and developers it was all too easy to throw money around but ultimately he found himself stranded out of his depth. Many others did the same as they traded success stories over lunch at the K Club or their private members’ lounge. In Seán Quinn’s own words, he may not have caused the collapse of Anglo Irish Bank but he certainly ‘advanced’ it.

The five thousand people who turned up in Ballyconnell a week ago may owe Seán Quinn some loyalty for things that he has done in the past. I find it difficult to find any sympathy for him. There are consequences to all actions and Seán Quinn still has a few to run through based on the stance that he is taking.

The sooner he comes to terms with that the better for all concerned. It’s a tough journey but one that is needed.

The one point that I may have had sympathy on is the way that his family have become embroiled in the scandal but the moment that they became involved in placing assets outside of the control of the state, any sympathy is lost; they are all fair game.

Read other columns by Nick Leeson >

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