Friday 31 October 2014

Developer John Kelly paid Girls Aloud €100k – six months before business partner Thomas Byrne was arrested

The now defunct girlband performed at Sinead Kelly’s 21st in Four Seasons – six months before Byrne was arrested on suspicion of €52m theft and fraud

Published 19/11/2013 | 10:39

Sinead Kelly and Girls Aloud
Sinead Kelly and Girls Aloud
Sinead Kelly and Cheryl Cole
Sinead Kelly and Cheryl Cole
Evening Herald reporter Meloney Finn with Sinead Kelly
Evening Herald reporter Meloney Finn with Sinead Kelly

GIRLS ALOUD, the Four Seasons and a 21st birthday party.

Welcome to 2007, a time when Cheryl Cole, Sarah Harding and Nadine Coyle would pose with a birthday girl for her 21st birthday in a five-star Dublin hotel.

The fee for the girlband’s personal appearance would come to €100,000 – probably a pittance if you’re one of the country’s leading developers.

And that’s what developer John Kelly was – with disgraced solicitor Thomas Byrne helping line his pockets and negotiate deals and loans.

The €52 million theft and fraud trial of former solicitor Thomas Byrne has thrown a spotlight on how one of the Celtic Tiger’s booming partnerships went truly bust.

Wicklow developer John Kelly was the single biggest client of Byrne's now closed-down practice.

As one of the country's top property developers, Mr Kelly's lifestyle included a yacht in Marbella, a helicopter and access to a number of Aston Martins.

The tycoon famously paid pop group Girls Aloud €100,000 to perform at his step-daughter's 21st birthday party in 2007.

During Byrne’s theft and fraud trial, the former solicitor has described his former business partner Mr Kelly as a "psychopath" who forced him to become a property magnate against his will.

It was all so different for both men during the boom years.

And their lavish lifestyles reaches new heights when it came to a 21st birthday party.

The part of Kelly’s stepdaughter Sinead gave us a glimpse into the life and times enjoyed by Kelly and Byrne before things went wrong.

The lavish affair took place in the Four Seasons Hotel in Ballsbridge in April 2007 – and photographs taken from the party were posted by party-goers on the then social networking site du jour Bebo.

The function room was decked out in pink, the birthday girl wore an expensive designer dress bought in London, and the night kicked off with a champagne and cocktail reception for the 150 guests.

Speaking to the Herald after the party, Sinead Kelly laughed off suggestions she was a “Wicklow Princess”.

Instead she told reporter Melanie Finn that she was “gobsmacked” when Girls Aloud walked in to sing her ‘Happy Birthday’.

Her father John Kelly kept the band’s appearance as a surprise – a surprise he paid €100,000 for.

“We had a three course meal and the speeches and everyone sang ‘Happy Birthday’ and then all of a sudden, Girls Aloud walked around the corner and started singing.

“I didn’t have a clue about the band. I was completely astonished and amazed but it was brilliant as I’m such a big fan,” she said.

“They called me up on stage and wished me a Happy Birthday and then they played for about an hour and everyone loved them.”

Actor Colin Farrell and rapper P Diddy were incorrectly reported to have been there –but Sinead explained they only happened to be in the lobby, and guests took pictures of themselves with them.

After the party finished, Sinead and her friends went to Rio nightclub. The following day, Sinead and her family jetted out for a nine day holiday.

But before they left, they caught a glimpse of the Sunday newspapers which detailed Sinead’s party.

Sinead was taken aback by the level of publicity her birthday party received.

“That wasn’t the aim of it at all. We are very private people and we don’t go looking for publicity or anything like that. It didn’t occur to me that people would look at my Bebo page. It was unfortunate that it went that way because that wasn’t my intention at all,” she explained.

“It was a fantastic night, we had a brilliant time but we didn’t expect what happened afterwards.

“It would have been different if we were celebrities but we are not. We don’t court any kind of publicity” she added.

She confirmed that her mother paid Girls Aloud €100,000 to perform at the party.

Just six months later, the Kellys’ world was to become unrecognisable following the arrest of solicitor, and John Kelly’s business partner, Thomas Byrne.

While in the witness box during his trial for theft and fraud, Byrne told prosecuting counsel Remy Farrell SC that Mr Kelly threatened to kill his seven-year-old daughter as part of a pattern of intimidation to force him to draw down €52m in loans.

He claimed Mr Kelly would regularly scream the threat at the top of his voice in the solicitor's office.

At the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Mr Byrne called Mr Kelly "a thug in a suit" who could be very charming when he wanted to be. He described him as a manipulative, clever man who wore a "Canali suit and drove a Bentley".

Mr Farrell put it to Mr Byrne that he had tied himself to the "most inept property developer of all time" and: "It really, really kills you that he isn't sitting in the dock next to you."

The court later heard that Mr Kelly is not facing any prosecutions.

Mr Byrne accepted that he owned between 40 and 50 properties but said he bought all of them to use as collateral as loans for Mr Kelly.

He agreed with prosecuting counsel Remy Farrell that he was forced to become a "reluctant property magnate".

During the trial, the accused said he had no interest in property or money himself and was acting under duress from Mr Kelly.

He said Mr Kelly "still casts a shadow" over him and he became scared in court when he saw the property developer's solicitor at the back of the court taking notes.

Byrne said Mr Kelly threatened him constantly over a seven-year period including threats to kill his seven-year-old daughter if Byrne stopped funding his lifestyle.

In a civil action between the Dublin-born solicitor and the developer Mr Kelly admitted he had no real income and that his business model relied on bank borrowings and a rising property market.

Court papers from that case revealed that in 2007 Mr Kelly earned just €130,116 after expenses compared to €69,234 in 2003 when the property boom took off.

In the six years since Byrne’s arrest and trial, John Kelly was in the Four Courts.

In 2011, Kelly attempted to sue Byrne for €6.1m – he lost the case.

The €6.1m was the amount he claimed Byrne should have paid to the EBS as part of a transaction involving the refinancing of an EBS loan for properties in James Street, Dublin.

Instead the High Court ruled that the developer knew rogue solicitor Thomas Byrne was "playing the system" in an elaborate "lawyer's version of a Ponzi scheme" that was used to fund both men's lavish lifestyles.

The High Court also ruled that Mr Kelly agreed, "if not encouraged", the unlawful activities carried out by Byrne.

Mr Justice Clarke also said that financial institutions seemed "to have been almost falling over themselves to secure the business of persons believed to be of high worth".

The banks were afraid of losing such valuable clients to rival banks, said the judge.

The case centred on two significant property transactions involving the two men who had been involved in property dealings over a 10-year period.

In the nine years before the solicitor's practice was shut down by the Law Society in 2008, some €110m on transactions had gone through Mr Byrne's practice account referable to Mr Kelly.

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