Thursday 23 March 2017

Businessman Noel O'Gara fails to have Dartmouth Square agreement set aside

Tim Healy

BUSINESSMAN Noel O'Gara has failed in a bid to have a settlement agreement over ownership of Dartmouth Square in Dublin set aside by the High Court.

Mr O'Gara claimed he and his wife Naramon had been "conned" and "blackmailed" into signing the agreement last July whereby they handed over a lease and title deeds for the Ranelagh square which is to be put up for sale at an Allsops auction next Tuesday (December 4).

He also claimed a liquidator to his company, Marble and Granite Tiles Ltd, had conspired with Dublin City Council to frighten off potential buyers of the square whereby the council has been allowed to act as caretaker of the square pending the sale. He said Allsops had set a reserve price of €140,000 on the two-acre square when Mr O'Gara's own valuer had estimated it at a "rock bottom" €300,000.

Today, Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan rejected Mr O'Gara's application to set aside the settlement on grounds of an alleged fraud. She said no evidence had been presented to the court to back up his claims.

She also found there was no evidence of fraudulent misrepresentation by the liquidator over the agreement which had been made on consent between the parties. The liquidator, Tom Murray, strongly denied all of Mr O'Gara's claims.

The court heard Mr O'Gara had previously used Dartmouth Square, which he bought the freehold interest in, as a tiles sales outlet and as a car park which led to legal actions by Dublin City Council against him and his company.

He faced a legal costs bill of €43,000 arising out of these actions which was not paid and the council successfully filed a petition to liquidate the company in July 2009.

Mr Murray of Friel Stafford took over as official liquidator last March and set about paying off the company's debts through the sale of its only asset, Dartmouth Square.

In an affidavit read out to the court today by Mr O'Gara, he claimed the council owed him €500,000 for two premises it had compulsorily acquired from him and for which he still had not been compensated. Had they done so, he would have been able to discharge the €43,000 debt.

He said in 2008, he had required hospitalisation for life-threatening heart surgery and, for the benefit of his wife, he decided to give her the lease on Dartmouth Square, which had been held by the company.

Last April, Mr Murray wrote to Mrs O'Gara giving her 14 days to surrender the lease of the square and threatening she would face the legal costs of an application to the High Court if she didn't accede to his demands, Mr O'Gara said.

Mr O'Gara said he only signed the settlement agreement outside the doors of the court last July "after relentless pursuit using threats of blackmail and fraud" in which the liquidator and his legal advisers used the legal process "to break me."

Michael O'Sullivan BL, for the liquidator and his solicitor, said there was no evidence to back up these claims and the O'Gara's had "freely entered" into the agreement. The liquidator said in an affidavit he was shocked and appalled by the claims and insisted he had at all times acted in the best interests of the company and interested parties.

Ms Justice Finlay Geoghegan said there was nothing in the agreement which could be taken as inferring the perpetration of a fraud before it was signed.

The judge, who had to tell Mr O'Gara on a number of occasions not to bring in extraneous matters such as arguing nobody was above the law by showing a copy of the Sun with a headline about the the jailing earlier this week of Judge Heather Perrin, awarded costs against him.

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