Saturday 23 September 2017

Gay Byrne locked in bitter legal battle over property

Broadcaster Gay Byrne Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Broadcaster Gay Byrne Photo: Colin O'Riordan

Tim Healy

A business partnership involving broadcaster Gay Byrne is locked in a bitter legal battle to prevent an "aggressive" fund selling the partnership's €13.5m investment property.

Rossa Fanning SC, for the Firstwood Partnership, told the Commercial Court that the Launceston fund had "contrived" a default last year on a fully-performing 20-year loan.

The loan had been made to the partnership in 2000 to buy a block of offices, retail units and car park at St Andrew's Lane, Dublin. His clients, including the "best-known broadcaster in the country", are not professional investors, counsel said.

They got involved in 2000, funded via a loan from Anglo Irish Bank due to expire in 2020. The partnership comprises Gay Byrne, senior counsel Anthony Kidney, two solicitors - Eric Brunker, now retired, and Stephen Hamilton - and Dermot Murphy of Clonskeagh Motors.

The fund, having bought "bundles of loans" at a discount, tries to make "a quick profit" by identifying default or enforcing security, Mr Fanning said. That might make "good business" for them but the court should not permit it at the expense of his clients' entitlements.

He said the fund was not at risk of not getting its money - as the annual rental income is some €920,000 and the "high-quality" property was valued at €13.5m in 2014.There was no default, because his clients had not fallen behind on payments agreed with Anglo and the fund had "contrived" the alleged default, he said.

Firstwood's proceedings are against Launceston Property Finance and a receiver appointed by it, Stephen Tennant of Grant Thornton. Interim orders were granted in October 2016.

Mr Fanning asked Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy for injunctions, pending a full hearing, restraining the receiver dealing with the property.

Opposing the application, Declan McGrath SC, for the fund, said this property was essentially bought as a pension investment and this case appeared to be about investors not wanting to sell it three years earlier than they wished.

The court was effectively being asked to "rewrite" the loan documents and to find the "sophisticated" commercial agreements do not mean what they say, he said. The judge said she hopes to rule next week.

Irish Independent

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