independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

I should have taken my wife's advice and retired in 2007 to travel the world - Dunne

Sean Dunne and wife Gayle Killilea
Sean Dunne and wife Gayle Killilea

BUST developer Sean Dunne says he should have taken his wife's advice and "cashed up" and sold everything in 2007 and gone travelling the world.

The 59-year-old expressed the regret during a second day of questioning at a creditors' meeting in Connecticut as part of his bankruptcy proceedings.

Gayle Killilea tried to get him to "sell everything" that year and travel, he revealed. Mr Dunne estimated he was worth well over ¿500m at the time and the former gossip columnist wanted him to retire so they could have a "bit of adventure".

"I should have cashed up. If I had, we wouldn't be sitting here today." Mr Dunne made the admission as he was questioned by NAMA lawyers on why the couple had moved to Switzerland in 2008.

It followed a stint in Paris at the beginning of 2007, then nine months in London that year.

When probed by NAMA lawyers on the couple's decision to choose Geneva, Mr Dunne said it was based on "good international schools" and ultimately "benign tax structures". It follows the sensational testimony on Thursday that he gave his wife ¿100m in 2005 in return for "love and affection and children". A court-appointed bankruptcy trustee, NAMA lawyers and a representative for Ulster Bank continued to sift through the complex financial history of one of the country's most prolific builders all day yesterday.

Tom Curran, for NAMA, quizzed the bust developer on a litany of companies and properties in South Africa, the UK, the US, Isle of Man and Ireland.

Mr Dunne told the table that he was the director of between 36 and 42 companies when a receiver was appointed in 2011.

The Carlow-born businessman now earns ¿1,000 a month consulting for wife Gayle's firm Amrakbo and a ¿100,000 salary this year from her other company, Mountbrook USA. When asked how he paid for travel, he told Mr Curran that he had three cards, including a Mountbrook debit card and his wife's American Express credit card on which he's a named holder.

He also confirmed that Mountbrook was paid £175,000 by Michael Fingleton Jr to help develop an office block he once owned near London.

When asked about the last time they had seen each other, he said they met in O'Briens in Leeson Street last month.

Questioned over whether the pair talked business, Mr Dunne told NAMA that they had discussed the fact that The Empire State Building was up for sale and Michael Jr had wondered "when I would be back doing the deals I used to do."

Mr Curran put it to Mr Dunne that he couldn't get very far on his earnings.

"It depends on your lifestyle," the developer replied.

"It's not my lifestyle that's at issue. It's yours," the NAMA representative replied.

Mr Dunne was quizzed on his finances and investments, including the sale of his shares the company he founded, Mountbrook, to wife Gayle, that led to her taking ownership of The Lagoon Beach Hotel in South Africa.

Questioning returned to two US sites being developed by Ms Killilea in SoHo and Greenwich and Mr Dunne was probed on whether he was involved in any other projects. "Outside of The Empire State Building?" he joked, "No but trying to get involved.

"I'm looking at London all the time. I've been speaking to private equity holders, meeting fund managers. Seeing how to raise finance. I'm very much constrained by being in bankruptcy but I keep channels open. "

On Thursday, Mr Dunne confirmed that the priority debtor listed as Creditor A on his bankruptcy filings with debts of $44m (¿33m) was Ms Killilea.

Mr Dunne told trustee Richard Coan that the debt was the result of an agreement between him and his wife drawn up in Thailand in 2005.

Out of a 'large pool of assets' the developer agreed that he would transfer 70pc of the profits of six assets. The developer deemed the deal to be worth in the region of 20pc of his net value then, around ¿500m.

The bust builder, who has debts of around ¿700m, said yesterday he "wouldn't have a clue" where the original documents for that arrangement might be. When asked about other bank accounts in Switzerland and the US, the developer insisted: "I keep telling you. I don't keep copies."

NAMA is challenging Mr Dunne's discharge from debt.

Last week, Mr Dunne lost a High Court bid to overturn an Irish bankruptcy, a ruling he is set to appeal but is now facing dual proceedings both sides of the Atlantic.

Orlaith Farrell

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