Tom Ryan plans £1bn 74-floor London skyscraper despite judgments against him
That's how the hugely influential and internationally respected Financial Times trumpeted the ambitious plans of Irishman Tom Ryan to build a £1bn, 74-storey skyscraper on a site which it said he had acquired for £100m at the heart of London's financial district.
Since the story broke nine days ago, however, little more has been said or written to shed light on the mysterious developer or his plans to develop Hertsmere House, a building which the FT declared could yet take the title of Europe's tallest residential building.
Given the potential profit his audacious plan could deliver, a betting man might predict a bright future for Tom Ryan and the Ryan Corporation (UK) Ltd. He certainly has a colourful past, judging by the findings of a Sunday Independent investigation.
The fallout on this side of the Irish Sea from his ill-fated involvement in businesses as diverse as the production of Irish cream liqueur and the leasing of helicopters continues to this day.
Indeed, only last month the Revenue Commissioners secured a judgement of €1,661,258.44 against Mr Ryan, with his address listed as 13 Herbert Street in Dublin.
Last January, Lombard Ireland Limited took a judgement for €767,865 against Mr Ryan. On that occasion, his address was listed as No 2 Sandymount Road in Dublin.
An examination of records held at the Companies Office and the Dublin City Sheriff's Office shows both addresses as being relevant to Mr Ryan's business and personal financial affairs.
While 13 Herbert Street still bears a brass name plate for the Ryan International Corporation at its entrance to this day, the building has long since ceased serving as the registered offices of Ryan International Corporation (Liqueur) Ltd and Ryan Helicopters, which were dissolved in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Today, the premises is occupied by a firm of solicitors.
The Herbert Street address still retains something of a link to Mr Ryan though, thanks to his association in business with a 24-year-old Lithuanian called Alvydas Damalakas.
A trawl of the records at both the UK Companies House and the Companies Office in Dublin shows Mr Damalakas as being a director of the Ryan Corporation (UK) Ltd in London and a firm called Signit Paint Ltd in Dublin. While the Ryan Corporation (UK) was reported by the FT as being behind Mr Ryan's £1bn plan for London's Canary Wharf, Signit Paint's business would appear to be far more modest, dealing as it does in the "retail sale of hardware, paints and glass".
Quite apart from being listed as Mr Ryan's address in relation to the €767,865 judgement Lombard Ireland secured against him, No 2 Sandymount Road crops up in records relating to the businessman's past at the Dublin City Sheriff's office.
The Sunday Independent can reveal Mr Ryan's Dublin house was the subject of no fewer than three orders for repossession between 2003 and 2005.
The first of these was lodged and withdrawn by the Irish Life & Permanent in July 2003. Three months later, the building society lodged and withdrew its application for repossession again. The third and final order was lodged by Secured Property Loans Ltd – a company controlled by American businessman Ron Weisz – in July 2005. On this occasion, the order was executed by the sheriff's office.
Mr Weisz's association with Mr Ryan predates the sheriff's action by several years, however. Records filed at the Companies Office in Dublin show the two were involved in an ambitious plan to bring a drink called Ryan's Irish Cream Liqueur to the international market as far back as 2001.
In an investment prospectus circulated a year previous to the formation of Ryan International Corporation (Liqueur) Ltd, Mr Ryan claimed to have pumped €6m of his own money into having the drink test-marketed in the US. In the event, the liqueur never got off the ground.
The investors' prospectus for Ryan's Irish Cream Liqueur also highlights Tom Ryan's claimed career achievements up to that point. It stated that the Tipperary-born businessman had a range of experience in "corporate life, public affairs, public relations, television, government services, international investment, property development and the drinks manufacturing/marketing industry".
The document added how Mr Ryan had been "directly associated with the development of Irish agribusiness in France" and that he had been appointed to develop "current affairs departments" for what were then "new government legalised radio stations".
While Ryan International Liqueur was dissolved in May 2010, two outstanding judgements remain against it, according to companies office records.
Sigmar Recruitment obtained a judgment for €16,772 against the company on December 7, 2009, while florist Boniek (a company trading as Mad Flowers) obtained a judgment for €3,354 on January 14, 2010.
Not that the matter of an outstanding debt to a financial institution or a trade creditor should necessarily act as a bar to Mr Ryan's current ambitions for Canary Wharf.
Indeed, the Sunday Independent was assured yesterday by a source close to the Hertsmere House project that the Ryan Corporation UK's chief operating officer, Richard Berridge, would be the "driving force" behind the development, which they said would cost £350m to build.
Mr Berridge will need to put that expertise to work given the need for the Ryan Corporation to apply to Tower Hamlets Council to vary the planning permission obtained for the site by its former owner, Commercial Estates Group, for a mixed-use scheme consisting of offices, a hotel and shops to housing development. Quoting a real estate expert from property adviser CBRE, the FT report said it would be "difficult" for the council to turn down such an application.
The exact source of the £100m which the FT reported had been paid by the Ryan Corporation to Commercial Estates Group remains unclear. It is also unclear whether the deal has been fully concluded.
When the Sunday Independent sought confirmation from the Commercial Estates Group that the transaction was completed with full payment received, a spokesman for the company declined to comment.
Asked if there was any substance in the speculation swirling around the property industry in London that Mr Ryan had the backing of "Qatari money" for Hertsmere House, a source close to the Ryan Corporation said: "I don't know if there's anything in that. Given the size of the project though and the low cost of funding available, you can take it that this will be highly leveraged. Tom's a wealthy guy, but why would you use your own equity when you can borrow so cheaply?"
Asked if they were aware of Mr Ryan's somewhat potted history in business and the judgements against him here, the same source said: "Tom is in the process of dealing with all of these matters. I think some of them might even have been settled already. It's not exactly unusual for a person in business to experience some bumps along the way."
And whatever experience Mr Ryan's COO, Richard Berridge, might bring to bear on the Ryan Corporation's plans for Canary Wharf, Ryan's involvement hasn't managed to convince everyone.
The Sunday Independent spoke last Friday night to one individual who had already been approached by Mr Ryan in relation to the project.
While acknowledging the potential of the Hertsmere House and Mr Ryan's confident presentation, he said: "I passed on it. If someone tells me they have the money to do something, I want to see the money sitting there beside them. I'm far too long in the jungle to have talks about talks."
Asked if he was aware of Mr Ryan's track record in business, the businessman said: "If I can't find them with a quick search on Google, they don't have a track record in my book."
But while Tom Ryan may remain something of a mystery to many of the major players in the real estate industry and to the wider public, there's no doubting that he's rubbed shoulders with some serious movers and shakers in his time, thanks to his membership of the influential Ireland-US Council.
A cursory perusal of its website throws up numerous photographs from council events in which Mr Ryan can be found standing side by side with leading figures from the world of Irish politics and business – including former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, former government minister Mary Hanafin, former Bank of Ireland CEO Brian Goggin and former chairman of the NTMA, Dr Michael Somers.
Contacted yesterday in relation to Mr Ryan's career to date and the numerous judgements against him personally and the companies he had been involved in, a spokesman for the Ryan Corporation declined to comment.
Asked about the company's plans for Hertsmere House, the spokesman said simply: "We won't be commenting at this stage I'm afraid. Have a good weekend."