The staggering truth about Gloag's Manston deal
Have we been the victims of fraud and misdirection over Manston?
Based on research that we have been carrying out here at Thanet Star it really does look like the idea was to force the council to buy the airport all along.
What we have uncovered is only a pattern of behaviour between two very powerful companies but one that is so striking it is hard to ignore. The evidence suggests that maybe Manston Airport was part of a debt swap and dump and it might not be the first time that these companies have been part of such an action.
The same Infratil owned Manston Airport and then sold it to the Stagecoach Group's owner Ann Gloag in almost the exact same way last year.
But the uncanny similarities do not stop there.
When Infratil owned Manston airport it loaded it with debts and handed off to Gloag's company. Likewise when Gloag's Stagecoach Group owned Prestwick Airport it too was loaded up with debt before sale.
Prestwick was taken off of Infratil's hands by the Scottish Government who renationalised the airport and presumably took care of the debt.
Now it looks like our local authority will end up taking the airport off of Gloag's hands and take care of that debt too.
Is this less a case of Gloag's revenge and more the second half of a complex conspiricy to squeeze free cash from government?
If you are prone to see cloak and dagger in business opperations then you probably do not need to know that Stagecoach New Zealand is a wholly owned subsidiary of Infratil Limited. Stagecoach New Zealand was part of the British Stagecoach Group as owned and operated by Gloag and her brother. Infratil then bought the firm from Stagecoach in November of 2005 with permission to use the name and livery for five years after the sale.
It looks like this sale happened after Stagecoach built up debts on Prestwick Airport by borrowing money that they spent elsewhere and then sold the airport and debt to Infratil who handled the airport off to the people of Scotland.
Infratil look like they have likewise taken out loans (free money) and are trying to hand the debt to us via Stagecoach. Probably legal but not at all ethical.
I wondered before why the normally compitant business woman Gloag gave up so quickly. Did she always intend to trick Conservative MP Sir Gale into brokering the sale?
This implication would explain why Gloag, whose companies are known for aggressive expansion and competition, never seemed to make much effort to make the airport profitable. It also might explain why the sale price was £1 if the sale was in order to allow Ann to act as an arms length intermediary for the sale of Manston to Thanet District Council.
There is a clear and cooperative business relationship between the two companies (Infratil and Stagecoach Group) and one has to wonder if Gloag never intended to build houses but wanted to compel the local authority to buy the airport by leveraging public outrage and have the authority take over Infratil's carefully created debt in the same way as it looks like Infratil have already done for Gloag.
The problem for us now is that if we call for a serious financial fraud investigation into the two companies Manston could be in limbo for years. However it might be possible for TDC to make the purchase and then to sue the two giants for the sum of the debts that they loaded onto it. Assuming of course that they can muster the legal muscle to pull of such a feat.
Which makes forcing a sale of the airport to the public purse for a million or two much safer than selling for seven million to a company with the power to come after Gloag and her friends when the scale of the debt that comes with the airport now comes to light. After all governments have funds to bail out and write off debts that Stagecoach and Infratil have created but not the will nor the shareholder pressure to come after the debt makers.
In all honesty there might be nothing we can do to stop Gloag and Infratil hugely profiting from loading debts onto assets of this size.
Of course some of this is conjecture and there is no evidence that we have of actual illegal activity. Tell me I a wrong but this does look like a giant debt swap with Thanet (and the Scottish government) as the losers.
Does this look dodgy to you?