At first glance Buswells Hotel, the politicians' haunt across the street from the Dáil, has little in common with the Q-City office park in the sprawling southern Indian city of Hyderabad. But the future of both has become entangled in the ongoing talks that could see the break-up of Quinn Group.
With the highly complex empire of the Fermanagh-born businessman creaking under the €4bn of debt owed by both the Quinn Group and Quinn personally, his creditors are examining the companies to find the best assets that may have to be sold if it is broken up as a result of the Financial Regulator's move to put its insurance arm into provisional administration.
Despite his disastrous bet on Anglo Irish Bank shares, Seán Quinn has amassed a large organisation spreading from his base in Cavan to as far away as Russia and India. Aside from insurance, the Quinn Group is involved in cement, plastics and chemical manufacturing, hotels, property management, pubs, wind farms, financial services, waste management, radiator manufacturing and glass production. Quinn also owns 25% of NCB Stockbrokers.
Little information about the performance of the various divisions is publicly available. The Quinn Group accounts list no fewer than 70 subsidiaries, and figures for most of them are unavailable. Quinn Group has yet to file its 2009 results. According to the 2008 Quinn Group accounts, Quinn's various businesses had a turnover of €2.2bn and made a pre-tax profit of €83m.
The insurance business had been considered the cash cow of the group. The group accounts show it wrote gross premiums of €1.1bn in 2008, roughly flat year-on-year, but operating profits collapsed by more than half to €85m. According to sources close to provisional administrators Grant Thornton, all the major insurance companies have expressed an interest in the business, though some are expected to bid for only parts of the book rather than the entire division.
Turnover at the rest of the Quinn Group's various divisions was €1.1bn and operating profits were €154m. No further breakdown is given in the accounts, but cement, glass and hotels are believed to be the next-biggest areas after the insurance operations.
The glass business might prove attractive if the company's bond-holders and banks were forced into a sale. Ardagh, the former Iseq-quoted company controlled by Paul Coulson, has fought a bitter planning and legal battle against Quinn's attempts to build a huge glass production plant at Elton in England. If it came on the market, Coulson would be in an ideal position to snap it up and merge it with his existing Ardagh sites.
Along with the Slieve Russell resort in Cavan, the hotels division includes several five-star properties in Britain and Europe. The flagship is the Belfry golf course, hotel and conference centre near Birmingham in England. The golf course has staged the Ryder Cup several times. A buyer for this could probably be found easily. The remaining properties in the hotels division are a disparate bunch, making individual sales more likely. The hotels include the Sheraton in Sofia, Hilton and Ibis in Prague, Holiday Inn in Nottingham and Crowne Plaza in Cambridge. According to the Quinn Group, it valued its hotels at €581m in 2008.
Quinn also owns six pubs in Dublin, including Messrs Maguire, the Barge and the Cat & Cage. Given the slump in bar sales and the number of high-profile pub groups going into examinership, it is likely these may prove difficult to offload quickly.
The accounts also show that Quinn placed a €200m value on its wind farms, located in Cavan and Fermanagh, in 2008. Apart from renewable energy, the company has planning permission to build a 450 megawatt electricity plant in Co Louth.
So far, Quinn's bond-holders haven't asked him to sell assets to repay their borrowings immediately. According to Quinn, if the Financial Regulator withdraws the threat of administration, he will have no difficulty repaying both the company's and his family's massive debts. If the High Court case goes against him, Quinn may not only lose the insurance business, but also the rest of the group.