Thursday 25 December 2014

Ex-solicitor and businessman guilty of €9m land loan fraud

Aoife Nic Ardghail and Conor Gallagher

Published 04/03/2014 | 02:30

Tony McAuliffe pleaded guilty to dishonestly obtaining a loan
Tony McAuliffe pleaded guilty to dishonestly obtaining a loan
John Duffy pleaded guilty to dishonestly obtaining a loan from Investec Bank

A STRUCK-off solicitor and an elderly businessman are to be sentenced for defrauding a bank of almost €9m to buy land now worth €30,000.

Ex-solicitor John Duffy (44) sent false letters to Investec Bank on behalf of Tony McAuliffe (78) to get a loan for 55 acres of land in Co Offaly in 2007.

Through Duffy, McAuliffe promised the bank he had a buyer with a €7m deposit for the land, and its sand and gravel deposits. The plan was to sell the property to this buyer, a company called Conway Clarke, for €17m.

Detective Sergeant Pat Linehan revealed that Conway Clarke was a company set up with McAuliffe's daughter, Sharon Clarke, and a family friend, Martin Conway, acting as directors.

Mr Conway told investigators that he knew he was in over his head and only got involved to help out McAuliffe.

He said he signed a blank cheque and was promised it would never be cashed, when he found out it was for €7m.

McAuliffe, a former jockey of Furze, Kildare, and Duffy, of Clogheen, Monasterevin, Co Kildare, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to dishonestly obtaining a loan from Investec Bank with intent of making gain in March, 2007. They have no previous convictions.

In a 2006 meeting, the men mentioned a nearby 55-acre site that they were interested in buying.

However, the accused told them they had an offer from a third party, a company called Conway Clarke, to buy the land for a higher price.

McAuliffe said he wanted €8m from the bank to buy the land which he would sell on for €17m to Conway Clarke.

Investec agreed to fund the full purchase price on the understanding that it was to be a "bridging loan" and would be repaid within two months. They were not aware Conway Clarke was set up by the accused.

McAuliffe set up a company called French Furze for the purposes of the deal.

When the term of the loan expired, Mr Casey contacted Duffy requesting payment. He was told that the deal hadn't gone through yet because one of the parties in Conway Clarke was ill.

McAuliffe used his daughter to get €100,000 from her credit union account to pay interest on the bank loan.

He tried to secure buyers and put ads for the land in the newspapers between May and June 2007.

Eventually, Investec went to the High Court after a potential purchase from a builder fell through. John Aylmer SC, defending Duffy, said that his client was not the "mastermind" in the enterprise.

Conor Devally SC, defending McAuliffe, said that his client still believed everything could have been sorted out after the High Court proceedings.

The detective accepted McAuliffe got caught up in the "madness of the merry-go-round" and the "get-rich-fast" mentality during Ireland's property bubble at a time when the market was beginning to crash.

Judge Reynolds adjourned the matter until the end of this month and remanded McAuliffe and Duffy on continuing bail.

Irish Independent

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