independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Dublin restaurateur concealed €63,000 fund diversion from insolvent company, High Court hears

Businessman Jeff Stokes deliberately concealed the diversion of €63,000 from an insolvent company into another firm controlled by his wife Pia Bang Stokes so he could continue to operate a well-known restaurant in Merrion Row, Dublin, the High Court heard.

Businessman Jeff Stokes deliberately concealed the diversion of €63,000 from an insolvent company into another firm controlled by his wife Pia Bang Stokes so he could continue to operate a well-known restaurant on Merrion Row, Dublin, the High Court heard.

The Stokes' sons, Christian and Simon, were managers of the "Il Segreto" restaurant and had control of a portable credit card machine which was used to divert the funds, it was claimed.

Myles Kirby, the liquidator of Il Segreto operating company, Citywest Hire Ltd, wants Mr Stokes senior to repay the €63,000 which was transferred in a "self serving exercise" as the restaurant business was in freefall and which was to the detriment of creditors, John Kennedy BL for the liquidator said. 

 What had been done with the money was dishonest and amounted "cheater's charter" where a business was coming to its end, he said.

Mr Stokes denies what he did was fraudulent and was a response to a very difficult trading situation.

Mr Kennedy said Il Segreto in Merrion Row was beside another restaurant, the Unicorn, operated by Springmanor Ltd, which Mr Stokes was also a director of and whose operating company went into liquidation in March 2011. 

The business was taken over by another company called Vino Classico whose directors were Mr Stokes' wife Pia Bang and Giorgio Casari and which also went into liquidation on September last year.

However, as the business got into trouble, in May/June last year, a credit card machine was used to transfer over €63,000 from the business to a company called Petrolo whose sole shareholder was Pia Bang Stokes.

Christian and Simon Stokes were involved in using the credit card machine whereby sums of cash were diverted to pay, what Mr Stokes claimed, was the restaurant's bills and staff wages but for which insufficient evidence was provided, Mr Kennedy said.

The Stokes brothers had in January 2012 been barred by the High Court from being directors of a company for four years over their involvement in the Residence Club in Dublin and one of the reasons for that disqualification was over the use of credit cards, Mr Kennedy said.

While Mr Stokes senior admits the use of the credit card machine was ill-judged, it was done as an "ad hoc reaction to a difficult trading situation", his counsel Stephen Hanaphy said.

It was not true Christian and Simon managed the takings because this was done by Jeff Stokes co-director Giorgio Casari with whom there had been serious conflict, counsel said.

The court also heard the Revenue obtained an attachment order over Citywest's current account in May 2013 and also issued a final demand for unpaid PAYE for more than €136,000. 

Other creditors were the landlord of the restaurant premises and Dublin City Council.

Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan said she would give her decision on the matter later.

Tim Healy

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