HUNDREDS MORE TRACKER ERRORS REVEALED AT BANKS - Three overseas banks that quit the Irish market during the financial crisis have seen their number of cases related to the tracker mortgage scandal - and other overcharging issues - more than double to as many as 655 accounts in just over a year.

In October 2017, Bank of Scotland, which introduced European Central Bank tracker mortgages to the Republic in 2001, said that it had identified 184 customers who were hit by an industry-wide debacle where they were either denied their right to a cheap home loan linked to the main ECB rate, or put on an incorrect rate. The figure has now increased to close to 500, the Irish Times has learned. "We have completed a review as requested by the Central Bank of Ireland, which identified a small number of accounts with errors related to tracker mortgages. The vast majority have been rectified and we expect to have completed this activity by the end of the month," said a spokesman for Lloyds Banking Group, which inherited Bank of Scotland in late 2008 as part of a rescue takeover of HBOS. He declined to comment on the specific number of cases. Danish group Danske Bank, which entered the Republic in 2005 by acquiring National Irish Bank before quitting the State’s retail banking market eight years later, has found that 115 customers were impacted by the fiasco, according to a company spokeswoman. That is up from 78 in November 2017. Meanwhile, ACC Loan Management, the remnant of ACCBank, has identified about 40 commercial and investment property customers who were charged the wrong rate, linked to European interbank lending rates, according to sources. 

***

POLARIS BOOSTS STAKE IN GREENCORE DESPITE €509m TENDER OFFER - Greencore's largest shareholder has boosted its stake in the sandwich-maker by tendering significantly fewer shares than it was entitled to under a share buy-back it had lobbied the company to launch. 

A stock exchange filing yesterday shows that Polaris Capital Management holds a 13.8% stake in the Irish firm, up from 9.45% prior to the tender offer. It passed the 13% threshold on February 7. Polaris Capital had pressured the Irish food group to launch the £509m (€580m) buy back of its own shares as a means to return capital to investors following the sale of its US arm. Greencore bought back nearly 37% of its own shares under the tender offer. None of Greencore's board, including chief executive Patrick Coveney, sold stock back to the company under the tender offer, in what was a show of commitment in the group. Greencore, one of the world's biggest sandwich-makers, bought 261 million of its own shares - the maximum permissible under the tender offer. It could not clarify Polaris' holding beyond the notice to the stock exchange yesterday. If Polaris did not avail of its full entitlement to sell shares to the company under the tender offer, while other shareholders did, it was left with an increased stake in the company even without buying additional shares. Greencore decided to return cash to shareholders after it sold its US arm for $1.07 billion (€930m). It originally intended to pay a special dividend to split £509m among shareholders, but the plan was criticised by investors, including Polaris, which proposed the tender offer as an alternative.

*** 

GOVERNMENT URGED TO DO MORE OVER BREXIT TAX - Business representative groups feel the Government should go further in its efforts to ease the burden on Brexit-exposed importers by widening the terms of its VAT deferral scheme. 

The Government last week approved proposals by Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe to allow companies postpone paying VAT on goods brought in from Britain from importation date to when filing bi-monthly VAT returns. The import VAT will be reclaimed at the same time that it is declared in a company's VAT return, rather than being charged at the point-of-entry, writes the Irish Examiner. "The scheme will be introduced for all traders for a certain period to alleviate the immediate cashflow issues arising from Brexit," the Department of Finance said. However, in a joint-letter to Government Ibec, Chambers Ireland, the Irish Exporters Association, the Irish Tax Institute and small firms lobbyist Isme have called for a three-month VAT deferral timeframe instead of the bi-monthly plan. "We believe that introducing a deferral regime of three months for Vat would significantly ease the cashflow pressures facing Irish firms," the organisations said in the letter. Meanwhile, accountancy body Acca has called on the EU to waive all import tariffs it would lawfully take from Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit and use them as part of an economic support package for those most affected by the UK crashing out of the EU without a trade deal in place.

***
IAG IN WARNING TO NON-EU SHAREHOLDERS - UK shareholders in the company that owns British Airways will not face new restrictions on their holdings after Brexit, the group said last night, but other non-EU shareholders will. 

International Airlines Group said that non-EU ownership of its shares had reached 47.5% and tht it was placing a ceiling on non-EU ownership of that amount in future, writes The Times. Any non-EU buyer making purchases that breached the ceiling would lose their voting rights on the shares and would be forced to sell them within ten days. UK-resident shareholders would not be treated as non-EU holders, it said, even after Brexit, which is due on March 29. IAG declined to say whether the statement had the blessing of the European Commission, although it seems unlikely that the company would put out such a statement without at least an informal nod from Brussels. IAG, which is the holding company for BA, Ibernia, Vueling and Aer Lingus, operates 575 aircraft and employs more that 64,000 people. Its shares are widely held in Britain in the wake of the privatisation of BA in 1987.