Bankrupt billionaire Sean Quinn and his ransomed son

Controversial Irish businessman Sean Quinn must find the €500m he is accused of hiding from his creditors - or else his son stays in jail.

There are few better exemplars of the rise and fall of Ireland's Celtic Tiger economy than Sean Quinn, once described by Forbes as "the biggest individual loser" of the global financial crisis. Having lost almost all his $6bn fortune following an international property binge, Ireland's erstwhile richest, and most controversial, tycoon faces an agonising new dilemma, says The Guardian. What price for a son?

"In another twist in the remarkable tale" of the bankrupt billionaire and his crumbling empire, Quinn's son (Sean jnr) has just been jailed for contempt of court for hiding €500m from creditors of the now-nationalised Anglo Irish Bank, which is owed €2bn by the Quinns. So how come Quinn senior (also found guilty of contempt) isn't behind bars too? The judge decided he'd be more productive on the outside. The deal is that if he produces the €500m, the convictions will be "purged" and Quinn junior released.

Quinn's counsel slammed the practice of holding the son "to see what the chieftain father will do" as "almost medieval". But many will agree with the judge that it is the only "practical" way of dealing with the Quinns, who have been found to have stashed much of the money they owe the bank in Russia and the Ukraine. The race is on to recover the funds, which are "fast disappearing into a complex web of companies scattered across the world".

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Ulster-born Quinn senior was a pivotal figure in the "magic circle" of investors at the heart of the collapse of the disgraced Anglo Irish Bank, the bank "at the centre of Ireland's economic crisis", says the FT (see below). But he still inspires fierce loyalty in his home county of Fermanagh.

Locals credit him with transforming a stagnant backwater into a vibrant economy, says BBC News online. "Many feel Sean Quinn has been made a scapegoat, while bankers have been bailed out and politicians... have wriggled off the hook." His real legacy, they say, has been thousands of jobs and homes. Some 6,000 people there are still employed by Quinn firms even if they have been sold from under his feet.

For years, Quinn's seemingly miraculous rise was celebrated in the district, says The Belfast Telegraph. Leaving school at 14, he borrowed £100 to start a business selling gravel from the family farm and swiftly built it into an empire straddling cement, glass manufacturing, heating and insurance. Yet he never lost his common touch, says the Irish Herald. He relished his status as "a working class hero", never moving out of Fermanagh.

Quinn's favourite leisure activity was poker. But he liked to play democratically, in humble surroundings, restricting all bets to 50 euro-cents so that no one would lose more than €5 a night. "I play cards in a house where you have to go out into the front street to go to the toilet," he once claimed. What an appropriate image, says the Herald, "when you consider that Sean continues to this day to piss in public. All over the Irish taxpayer."

Where did it all go wrong?

Who has caused Ireland the most grief: Sean or Seanie? asks The Irish Herald. Sean "Seanie" FitzPatrick the smooth-talking, debonair dealmaker who presided over the downfall of Anglo Irish Bank has since maintained a shamelessly "chipper" image, apparently impervious "to the hardship he has caused".

Sean Quinn, on the other hand, presents himself as a man led astray. "My mistake was to place an over-reliance on the Irish banking system and the predictions for continued growth by the country's leading financial experts," he once observed.

Investigators are still trying to get to grips with Quinn's exact involvement with Anglo Irish (renamed the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation since its nationalisation). But it is alleged that he was one of a circle of investors to whom the bank secretly lent huge sums some of which was immediately invested in the bank's stock "to falsely inflate Anglo's share price", says The Belfast Telegraph. The rest was channelled into the high-octane international property markets of Russia, the Ukraine and the Gulf ultimately the source of his downfall.

Quinn's default defence against those who accuse him of salting away cash in Ukraine is "I'm an idiot", says As RT News reports, he claims to have been "unaware of the corporate structures set up to hold international property assets for his children". When presented with video footage showing his nephew and son discussing a payment with contacts in Kiev, the family defence is that they were being intimidated by "thugs".

Quinn's record for open disclosure isn't good, says Henry McDonald in The Guardian. During his failed attempt to file for bankruptcy in Britain this year, he said: "I never did a day's work from southern Ireland in my life." He failed to disclose that he held an Irish passport, voted in the Republic and paid 20% of his taxes there.