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Saturday 25 March 2017

Bank's aggressive behaviour has wrecked my business -- O'Donnell

Solicitor Brian O'Donnell
Solicitor Brian O'Donnell
The O'Donnells' palatial home on Vico Road, Killiney, in Dublin

Siobhan Creaton

SOLICITOR Brian O'Donnell has broken his silence on the collapse of his €1bn property empire, as he faces losing his luxurious home.

Mr O'Donnell and his wife Mary Pat became a poster couple for the Celtic Tiger boom as they amassed a massive property portfolio spanning the globe.

But the high-flying couple could now lose their palatial home after Bank of Ireland secured a €71.5m judgment against them.

Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, Mr O'Donnell said he had been left "stunned" by a lack of communication from the bank.

He said that the couple were "seeking a solution" to their massive financial challenges but the bank was aggressively pursuing the cash.

Bank of Ireland declined to comment on Mr O'Donnell's claims.

But the solicitor, who lives on the millionaire's row of Vico Road in Killiney, south County Dublin, also said:

- Bank of Ireland's relentless pursuit of his family is designed to scare other lawyers, doctors and professionals who owe the the bank money.

- The bank scuppered the sale of their former ski chalet, Chalet Hermine in Courcheval, France.

- The couple repaid €9.3m earlier this year but the bank did not knock this off what they owe.

The well-known corporate lawyer claimed the "very draconian legal route" the bank had followed was totally unnecessary.

"Bank of Ireland's actions have been very ill-considered and have severely damaged our business and damaged our ability to recover," he said.

"We know we owe the money. We are honest people who want to do the right thing.

"In all the time we have been involved with Bank of Ireland that has been our sole aim," he said last night.

"We have always been seeking a solution -- but the bank has not engaged with us on a commercial level."

The O'Donnells have been Bank of Ireland customers since 1974. But Mr O'Donnell claims the bank has rejected all proposals he has made to repay his massive loans, and that its aggressive behaviour has wrecked his property business.

Instead of considering how to get the best return from their assets, he claims the bank has given them 24-hour notice to pay back everything they owe.

Mr O'Donnell is a former managing partner at one of Dublin's biggest law firms William Fry, and he later went on to set up his own law firm.

For several years, he and his doctor wife surfed a wave of success on the back of prestigious property investments secured through their private company Vico Capital.

Their big investments included taking a stake in the Sanctuary Building in London close to Westminster Abbey, where the British government was a tenant. They also own buildings in Canary Wharf that are leased to Morgan Stanley.

Borrowed

They borrowed millions to fund these deals, with sophisticated arrangements involving banks and finance specialists aimed at making money over a long period of time.

Mr O'Donnell was the decision-maker and did all of the wheeling and dealing to put the finance into place. Each property was purchased through a separate company and they joined with other investors in these deals, borrowing money from a range of banks.

At the height of the boom in 2006 Bank of Ireland asked the couple to switch all of their loans to the bank.

They then struck a deal that they have come to bitterly regret.

Everything was going well according to Mr O'Donnell, until Lehman Brothers collapsed and eventually the Irish banks buckled. They had huge debts and came under pressure to repay them.

They struck an agreement with the bank, but this later broke down. They have told friends it was like "the shutters came down".

Mr O'Donnell claimed that one of its bankers phoned his office 88 times and also bombarded his mobile phone with calls and texts to get him to repay his loans.

This pressure forced the sale of assets in a distressed market, that Mr O'Donnell's advisers believe wiped €89m off the value of the couple's portfolio.

Vico Capital did sell its biggest asset, the Sanctuary Building in London, for €202m earlier this year and Bank of Ireland got €30m from the sale. The O'Donnells' share of these proceeds was €9.3m, which was to be put towards the money they owed. They claim the bank has refused to credit this amount to them.

In court, Bank of Ireland said the O'Donnells owed €71.5m but the couple dispute this figure. Mr O'Donnell has suggested they owe €63m.

The difference is likely to be the interest and penalties applied by the bank.

If the O'Donnells fail to pay the sum, the bank could move to repossess their Killiney home.

The house is in one of the most exclusive areas in Ireland -- just a stone's throw from Bono's recently renovated pad and Enya's Manderley Castle.

Other local property owners include Bono's bandmate The Edge, musician Van Morrison and motor racing legend Eddie Jordan.

Irish Independent

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