Unreal estate

Vacancy Watch: 75-76 Camden Street

On a recent Friday afternoon, Phil Tierney is behind the bar at Anseo, and Gavin Clarke is on the other side, enjoying a pint.

Through the pub’s front windows, they can see out onto Camden Street, with its pubs and restaurants and cafes and footpaths bustling with people headed home from work.

But amid all this commerce and activity, directly across the street, 75 to 76 Camden Street sit vacant. The shutters are down on two of the storefronts. Plywood covers the third.

These were a barbershop, a mobile phone shop and a travel agency, once. But their signboards are now stripped bare. The two floors above the shopfronts also appear to be empty.

The pub is dim, cosy, and the two men are nearly alone inside, although a third is sitting a little further down the bar, listening in.

“The phone shop is gone years now,” says Tierney. “The barber shop closed much more recently.”

Clarke, who’s from Dublin, is animated about the situation. He sounds irritated and a bit sad that the buildings on this prominent strip have been left empty.

“Dublin’s a major hub for tourism, which is a major source of income, and to see places like this go to waste is such a shame,” he says.

International Connections

As of December 2017, the owner of this building was Martina Investments Limited, according to a letter from that company’s director, Paul G. Backhouse, filed as part of a planning application with Dublin City Council.

Martina Investments is registered in Guernsey, which ranks tenth on the Tax Justice Network’s 2018 Financial Secrecy Index, “a tool for understanding global financial secrecy, tax havens or secrecy jurisdictions, and illicit financial flows or capital flight”.

The shareholders Martina Investment Limited are listed as Damont Limited, represented by Backhouse, and Jolicot Limited, represented by Nicholas P. Ferris.

Both turned up in the so-called “Bahama Leaks“, a cache of documents related to 175,000 Bahamian companies registered between 1990 and 2016. The Bahamas rank 19 out of the 112 jurisdictions on the Financial Secrecy Index.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ (ICIJ’s) Offshore Leaks Database shows Backhouse, Ferris, Damont Ltd and Jolicot Ltd as being linked in to a web of dozens of Bahamas-registered companies, through companies called Axis International, and Windemere Corporate Management.

Backhouse and Ferris are also listed as directors of “international financial services business” Cogent, which advertises that “Our Guernsey location enables us to provide you with the maximum level of wealth protection whilst operating within a highly regulated environment”.

When contacted by phone, Backhouse declined to answer questions about the property, and he also failed to respond to an email enquiry. It’s unclear whether he and Ferris are the beneficial owners of the building on Camden Street, or whether they are managing the property for someone else.

Complex Structure, Simple Reason

Why does the ownership of this three-storey building on Camden Street involve PO boxes in Guernsey and a web of companies in the Bahamas? We don’t know.

Jim Stewart, an associate professor in Trinity’s School of Business, says there can be many reasons for this sort of arrangement.

Sometimes such structures are used to help the owner reduce the amount of taxes they might owe in the country where the structure is located, Stewart said.

With the Camden Street buildings, for example, the owners might be able to effectively sell the buildings by selling the Bahamas-registered companies, and avoid owing capital gains tax in Ireland, he said.

Ronen Palan, a professor of international politics at the University of London, suggested the same reason for the ownership structure. “The Guernsey company will sell one of the Bahamas [companies] to interested parties. Hence no capital gain in Ireland,” Palan said.

“If owners believe there will be big appreciation in value and hence capital gain, the scheme makes sense,” Palan said.

People also use complex corporate structures like this so “they can hide who the true owner is or more likely you could use a trust where the beneficial owners are not declared. You could use some other legal device to hide the beneficial owner,” Trinity’s Stewart said.

There was a company called Martina Investments Limited caught up in the Ansbacher affair. But it’s not clear whether that’s the same company, and, if so, whether ownership of it has changed hands since then.

In testimony included in the 2002 “Report of the Inspectors Appointed to Enquire into the Affairs of Ansbacher (Cayman) Limited“, Stephen Enoch says questions about the beneficial ownership of that Martina Investments Limited, and a couple other companies, “could perhaps be addressed to my father” (Victor Enoch).

Records from Property Registry Authority of Ireland’s Registry of Deeds that name properties connected to “Martina Investments Ltd”, also name Stephen Enoch, Michael B. Enoch and Lorraine Enoch.

These records connect Martina Investments to a series of other properties around Dublin.

Last year, Michael Enoch, Lorraine Enoch and Martina Investments sold 61 Main Street, Finglas to Independent Trustee Co. Ltd, and they sold The Drake Inn “at the rear and side of 61 Main Street” to “Sarl Mush”.

In 2009, Martina Investments leased 51 and 51A Grafton Street to “Butlerts [sic] Irish Confectionary”. In 2006, Martina Investments Ltd, Michael Bruce Enoch, Stephen Enoch, and Lorraine Enoch sold 61, 61A and 62 Thomas Street to Louis Scully.

The list goes on.

Plans

In 2016, there was a planning application put in to fix up and put back into use 75, 75a and 76 Camden Street, and 41A Pleasants Street. An Bord Planeala approved the proposal on several conditions, including that “The units shall not be used as restaurants”.

The was another application, in 2017, to link 76 Camden Street to 41A Pleasants Street, and make the two premises into a “licensed restaurant”. That was approved in February, with conditions.

That planning application says the building has been leased to PressUp, which runs pubs and venues across the city. A spokesperson for PressUp said it is “waiting for a planning decision from an Bord Pleanála for this property”.

Back in Anseo Tierney has heard about PressUp’s plan for the building. “I think it’ll help the area,” he says. “Places open is better than places closed.”

– with additional reporting by Sam Tranum

Dan Grennan portrait
Dan Grennan

Dan Grennan is student of journalism at Dublin Institute of Technology, and a freelance writer

 

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