Sunday 23 July 2017

Ex-Unicorn owners keep home despite €12m debt write-off

Jeff Stokes and Pia Bang, who once owned the Unicorn restaurant in Dublin. Photo: Kieran Harnett
Jeff Stokes and Pia Bang, who once owned the Unicorn restaurant in Dublin. Photo: Kieran Harnett
Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

One-time restaurateurs to the rich and influential, Jeff Stokes and Pia Bang, have held onto their €800,000 family home after the High Court approved personal insolvency arrangements for the couple this week.

The couple will have €12m in debt written off in exchange for agreeing to pay creditors €145,000, under the terms of the scheme.

The bulk of the money will go to the biggest creditor, Dunbar Assets, formerly Zurich Bank.

The couple had already lost control of prized assets, including the famous Unicorn restaurant and investment property in Dublin that has been repossessed.

The Unicorn has been one of the most fashionable restaurants in Dublin for decades, playing host to the likes of former US president Bill Clinton and rock star Bono. But the family has been mired in financial troubles in recent years.

Revenue is a preferred creditor in insolvency cases. It is understood the tax bill involved in the case of Mr Stokes adds up to around €75,000. Unsecured creditors will get just cents in the euro under the scheme.

Revenue is not a creditor of his wife Ms Bang, it is believed. It is understood that Danish-born Ms Bang will retain her one-third interest in a Danish buy-to-let property and a site in Denmark, under the terms of the deal approved by the High Court.

It is also understood that debt secured on her share of the assets is more than the value of the interest. Debtors usually have to give up any claim on valuable assets to benefit from debt write-offs.

Investments

Under the new insolvency regime brought in after the financial crash, the former owners of the upmarket Unicorn restaurant in Dublin needed the written consent of their secured creditors before the arrangement could be approved, because their debts were greater than €3m.

Following the arrangement, hammered out by personal insolvency practitioner (PIP) Michael McAteer of Grant Thornton, the couple will hold on to the family home, in Kilternan, in south County Dublin, which is valued at around €800,000.

There is a €680,000 mortgage on the house. The High Court-approved debt write-off will free the couple from their non-mortgage debt, which was linked to business and property investments.

The scheme was backed by creditors at a meeting on January 10 and approved by Justice Marie Baker at the High Court.

The bulk of the €12m debt was originally owed by the couple and their once high-profile twin sons, Simon and Christian Stokes.

The twins were declared bankrupt back in 2015. The brothers operated the exclusive Residence club and Bang restaurant.

In 2014, Christian and Simon Stokes, and Jeff and Pia, consented to a €14.7m judgment being entered against them arising from various loans and guarantees. Dunbar Assets Ireland said the money was owed under what it called the "Consolidated Stokes Facility", created following a 2011 restructuring of loans and guarantees.

Irish Independent

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