O'Donnell facing five days' court quiz in 'bankruptcy tourist' case
SOLICITOR and property investor Brian O'Donnell is expected to take to the witness stand today in a London courtroom where his bid to declare bankruptcy in Britain has been challenged by Bank of Ireland.
Lawyers for both sides yesterday engaged in legal argument in the High Court battle which surrounds where Mr O'Donnell and his wife Mary Pat's centre of main interest (COMI) is.
The O'Donnells contend that it is in the UK but the bank says it is in Dublin, leading to the accusation that the couple are 'bankruptcy tourists' seeking to avail of the UK's more lenient bankruptcy laws.
Gabriel Moss, counsel for the bank, said he expected to cross-examine Mr O'Donnell in the witness box for up to four or five days.
He said the solicitor, who was once one of Ireland's leading commercial lawyers, was very experienced and not capable of a yes or no answer.
Paul Burton, representing Mr O'Donnell, said he was "amazed" that the cross-examination would take this long and that the bank had "over-complicated" the matter.
There was further legal argument over another witness statement provided by Mr O'Donnell and the attendance of Ms O'Donnell to give evidence at the case.
The judge adjourned the case until today when Mr O'Donnell is due to start giving evidence this afternoon.
Under Irish law, bankruptcy can take up to 12 years to be completed while in the UK it can take as little as 12 months.
This has led to a number of high-profile Irish businesspeople, who have suffered as a result of recession, to declare bankruptcy in Britain.
The O'Donnells once commanded a property empire which included some €1bn worth of assets in London, Washington and Stockholm amongst others through their company Vico Capital.
Mr O'Donnell has listed a property on Barton Street in Westminster – a short walk from the houses of parliament – as his home and has included a range of receipts, tickets, dry-cleaning bills and a TV licence renewal as part of a file to prove the city as his centre of main interest.
Bank of Ireland has secured a judgment from the High Court in Dublin against them for €71.5m.
Last month, the couple and their two adult sons lost a bid to stop the High Court dealing with the bank's case alleging fraud against them.
The bank brought an action against them alleging they conspired to put in place a "blatant" scheme to put property assets in London beyond its reach. The couple deny the claims.