News Courts

Monday 15 September 2014

Sean Dunne disputes claims of 'secret wall' for valuable artwork in K-Club house, court hears

Developer also disputes he is the owner of a safe found in upstairs room

Published 19/03/2014 | 16:19

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Developer Sean Dunne
The K-Club in Co Kildare played host to the Ryder Cup in 2006

DEVELOPER Sean Dunne strongly disputes claims there was a secret panel in a bookshelf wall of a K-Club house where valuable artwork may have been stored before the property was searched by the official dealing with his bankruptcy, the High Court heard.

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Mr Dunne says there is no "false wall" in the house in the exclusive Churchfield development but the area in question is a storage unit accessed from under the stairs in which the sound system for the property is located.

He also disputes he is the owner of a safe found in an upstairs bedroom which contained what searchers believed may be the keys to another safe in the house.

Mr Dunne, who has been declared a bankrupt both in Ireland and the US where he now lives, is asking the court to set aside a warrant granted to the official assignee in charge of Irish bankruptcy, Chris Lehane, allowing a search of the K-Club house in Straffan, Kildare, last November when various assets including artworks were seized.

He claims the warrant, which was issued to Mr Lehane at an in camera High Court hearing at which only Mr Lehane was represented, is defective and based on hearsay evidence.

He is asking the court to order that Mr Lehane be cross-examined over the search warrant so he can show his (Lehane's) claims are groundless.

In an affidavit sworn in Paris last weekend, Mr Dunne also denies claims by Mr Lehane that several pieces of artwork had already been removed from Churchfield and there were plans to transport more to the US.

Mr Dunne is willing to give evidence as part of his challenge via video-link from the US.  

He says he is not the owner of Churchfield but it is held in trust for his children by an Isle of Man registered company called Traviata.

He does not wish to travel to Ireland to give evidence in person because of the expense and inconvenience involved, his counsel Bill Shipsey said yesterday.

Mr Justice Brian McGovern agreed that while unnecessary expense should be avoided, he noted that Mr Dunne and his wife Gayle Dunne had sworn affidavits in Paris last weekend.

The judge also said it was clear that the Dunnes travel here from time to time to see Mr Dunne's mother and that they stay in the K-club property.

Mr Lehane is opposing the application for what he says would be a wide-ranging "roving" cross-examination. While he is available to do so if the court directs, he believes such cross-examination will not elucidate the challenge to the search warrant.

He says no issue arises about the ownership of the property and any dispute over its contents is between him (Lehane), Gayle Dunne and the Traviata trust.

Mr Dunne says while Mr Lehane stated he (Dunne) paid the premium in 2013 for insurance on Churchfield, this was not a legitimate basis for asserting that he was the owner of the house.

He says Mr Lehane's claims that assets may have been concealed behind a false wall or in a safe this was based on vague reference to the official assignee's office having received information or evidence supporting his belief.

As a matter of constitutional fairness, he should have an opportunity to challenge these claims under cross-examination.

Mr Dunne says it is implicitly alleged in Mr Lehane's affidavits that he had submitted an incomplete statement of affairs for his US bankruptcy and had lied under oath during those US proceedings.

"There is no truth or substance to these allegations but, it goes without saying, even the fact of these unwarranted and unsubstantiated allegations having been made against against me by Mr Lehane has potentially very serious consequences in context of my Irish and US bankruptcies".

He is now a "dual bankrupt" and his Irish bankruptcy is under appeal to the Supreme Court.  However, a protocol on how this dual bankruptcy was to proceed has still not been produced almost nine months since a worldwide stay on proceedings against him was lifted in the US allowing the Irish bankruptcy to proceed.

He also says the contents of Churchfield have now been identified by his wife Gayle, his son John Dunne and Traviata and with very few exceptions, they are not items of high value and some are just of sentimental value to him and his children.  

Mrs Dunne, John Dunne and Traviata support the application to have Mr Lehane cross-examined.

Mr Justice McGovern said he would give his decision as soon as possible.

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