Sunday 28 December 2014

Slim pickings in bankruptcy swoop on Sean Dunne's K Club pad

Published 23/03/2014 | 02:30

Sean Dunne and Gayle Killlea. Inset from top: Artworks by Ann Donnelly, Graham Knuttel and Marie Carroll
Sean Dunne and Gayle Killlea. Inset from top: Artworks by Ann Donnelly, Graham Knuttel and Marie Carroll

IT was billed in breathless fashion as the Baron's Aladdin's cave, a house laden down with valuable art and antiques amassed by developer Sean Dunne in the heady days of the boom.

But as our pictures show, the pickings were pretty slim when officials in charge of Mr Dunne's Irish bankruptcy swooped on his family's retreat at the exclusive K Club last November.

While court official assignee Chris Lehane and his colleagues went armed with intelligence suggesting amongst other things that priceless artworks were concealed in a "secret panel" in a bookshelf wall, what they encountered was far more mundane.

Indeed, judging by the sheer paucity of recognisable artists whose works were found on the property, it's hardly surprising that the Carlow-born developer and his wife, Gayle Killilea, had yet to transport their 'hidden treasures' to their new home in America before Mr Lehane pounced.

Leaving aside a single portrait of a man and woman by Graham Knuttel, valued in the low thousands, the Dunnes' K Club art collection contains a mere smattering of works by other Irish artists such as Marie Carroll, Tom Byrne and Ann Donnelly.

While none of those paintings is especially valuable, their content gives an intriguing insight into the lives of their owners in the Celtic Tiger years.

From Carroll's depiction of the Shelbourne Hotel's Horse Shoe Bar, so beloved of Dublin's great and good, to Byrne's portrait of Sean Dunne's longstanding friend and banker, former Irish Nationwide chief executive Michael Fingleton; to Donnelly's image of the Christina O, where the Dunnes celebrated their €1.5m wedding nuptials in 2004, the K Club cache provides a snapshot of the rarefied world the couple once occupied.

The official assignee has been seeking to determine the ownership and value of the items and documents since seizing them from the house four months ago. The Sunday Independent understands from a source familiar with the matter, however, that none of the art is especially valuable and much of it is owned by either Gayle Killilea or Sean Dunne's adult sons, John and Steven.

In the case of Ann Donnelly's painting of the Christina O, the value is said to be entirely sentimental. For while Ms Donnelly is a capable artist, she also just happens to be Sean Dunne's sister.

Ample evidence of the Carlow-born developer's enduring passion for business and sport are to be found elsewhere in the collection.

In the case of the former, two pivotal moments in Mr Dunne's famous battle to buy the former Jurys and Berkeley Court hotels are recalled in two front pages of the Irish Times from October 2005, which he had framed.

The first of these from the October 18 edition of that year is headlined 'Doyles pay €50m to win control of Jurys hotels', while the second front page from October 21, 2005, carries the headline 'Sean Dunne rules out making bid for Jurys Doyle'.

The developer's love for rugby, golf and horse racing is captured in the numerous pieces of sporting memorabilia found at the K Club property by Mr Lehane and his team.

Among the items seized were a series of prints of the former Lansdowne Road stadium, a painting of the Irish members of Europe's 2006 Ryder Cup winning team, a framed flag from the 18th hole of the US Open and a framed boxing glove from the former world heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali. Mr Dunne declared his ownership of the sporting keepsakes in his statement of affairs when he filed for bankruptcy in the United States last year.

A source familiar with the matter told the Sunday Independent that the reason the items at the K Club were found stored in boxes is that they had been moved there from the developer's family home on Shrewsbury Road after he had rented it out to the South African Embassy.

Mr Dunne for his part has denied ownership of the K Club property and says it is held in trust for his children by an Isle of Man-registered trust called Traviata.

Last Wednesday, the official assignee's decision to apply for a warrant at a private court hearing last November to search the property and seize items from it was challenged by lawyers for Mr Dunne in the High Court.

The Carlow-born developer claimed the decision to grant the warrant at which only Mr Lehane was represented was legally defective and based on hearsay evidence. He now wants orders permitting the cross-examination of Mr Lehane. In an affidavit sworn in Paris last weekend, the developer denied claims that several pieces of artwork had already been removed from the K Club house by the time it had been searched by Mr Lehane. He also denied that there was a secret panel in the house where these had been concealed or that there were plans to transport more items from the house to the US.

Mr Lehane is opposing what he contends would be a "roving" cross-examination. While available for cross-examination if the court directs, he argues that would not elucidate the challenge to the warrant. He says no issue arises about the ownership of the property and any dispute over its contents lies between himself, Mrs Dunne and the Traviata trust.

Sunday Independent

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