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Thursday 24 July 2014

Sean Dunne gifted wife €60 m to buy house

Published 01/03/2014|08:27

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Gayle Killilea and her husband Sean Dunne. Photo: Tony Gavin
Gayle Killilea and her husband Sean Dunne. Photo: Tony Gavin
EXPLOSIVE COMBINATION: Developer Sean Dunne and former journalist Gayle Killilea married without a pre-nup but struck a deal for one-fifth of his assets. Photo: Derek Spiers
IF I CAN MAKE IT THERE, I’LL MAKE IT ANYWHERE: Sean Dunne on the streets of New York

Broke developer Sean Dunne gave wife Gayle Killilea almost €60m in cash in 2005 to buy Ireland's most expensive house, he told US bankruptcy proceedings.

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And he gave details of how another property he sold before the financial crash was paid for by its new owner in €75m "hard cash, brought in in a suitcase and put on a table".

Details of the financial affairs of the former 'Baron of Ballsbridge' emerged yesterday during a meeting of his creditors in Connecticut.

He told the meeting that he gifted his wife €60m in cash in 2005 to buy the Walford mansion on Shrewsbury Road in Dublin 4.

Mr Dunne (59) said the transfer was made following a post-nuptial deal the pair had struck earlier that year in Thailand.

Asked by NAMA where he got the money, Mr Dunne replied that it came "from one of my pockets, one of my bank accounts, one of my companies or a combination of all three".

In December, Mr Dunne told a meeting of his creditors that in 2005, he signed an agreement with wife Gayle (38) to give his new bride €100m to ensure her financial independence in return for her "love and affection".

The financial arrangement was made a year after their lavish wedding on Aristotle Onassis's former yacht.

A payment of €60m in "one lump or close to it" was part of that deal, he told the meeting in New Haven yesterday.

The payment was for her "to acquire an asset, €58, €59, €60m when all the costs racked up".

Walford broke records when it sold for a reported €58m in 2005.

In 2010, Gayle Killilea was granted a judgment of $44m (€31m) in a Swiss court to honour the Thai agreement.

When questioned by Tom Curran for NAMA on whether it was unusual for a wife to sue a husband, Mr Dunne replied: "I can't account for the actions of other people", adding that "when I owe money, I don't contest it".

Ms Killilea took legal steps to make sure the financial agreement between the couple was honoured, he confirmed to the meeting.

The former 'Baron of Ballsbridge', who has debts of €691m, faced questions about his financial affairs from the court- appointed trustee Richard Coan and lawyers for Ulster Bank and NAMA. Mr Dunne, who filed for bankruptcy in the US in March, claims he hasn't lived in Ireland since 2007.

Any financial assets brought into the marriage by then journalist Gayle Killilea were raised by NAMA lawyers, but Mr Dunne insisted that his wife had always maintained her own, separate bank account.

He added that given the vast value of his worth in 2005 – between €500m and €700m – "it wasn't of interest".

When quizzed extensively on paperwork and any history of transfers or sales of properties and shares during that time, Mr Dunne several times insisted that his former financial controller, Ross Connolly, would be better equipped to answer questions.

There were sometimes tense exchanges around the table.

"You seem to be going around the houses.

"I'd rather if you were more direct because I am direct," Mr Dunne told NAMA lawyer Mr Curran at one point.

He reiterated yesterday that he and his wife made the Thai deal because legal advice found that a pre-nup wasn't "worth the paper it was written on".

Mr Curran probed the former tycoon over his wife's earnings when the couple first married but Mr Dunne said he really couldn't be sure.

"I didn't see her tax returns. She is certainly making more than I am today," he said.

Although Walford was sold in 2005, it wasn't confirmed until 2011 that it had been purchased by Ms Killilea.

It was sold this March to a mystery buyer for €14m.

During the boom times, Mr Dunne confirmed that Ms Killilea received a wage from his former firm DCD Builders of €100,000 a year from 2005 for "consulting services", including interior decoration and PR advice.

The former developer said the company was turning over €500m at the time, and her salary of €100,000 isn't an "insignificant amount of money – but then it was."

The Carlow-born businessman again sifted through the accounts of former firm DCD Builders.

Fielding questions about a €200m loan he made to the company, Mr Dunne argued that it had been well-documented in all the papers.

He said in what was standard practice, he would regularly take sums of money between €10,000 and €10m from the company.

"It was my money. It wasn't DCD's money. It was mine and I took it back."

Mr Dunne was owed €160m when the company folded he said. "NAMA wasn't the only one to suffer, we all suffered."

One of the transfers probed by NAMA's legal team was the site of the former Glass Bottle Social Club in Clonskeagh in 2008 from husband to wife.

Mr Dunne said he transferred the asset at the market value to reduce his debt to Ms Killilea and at one point during the questioning told Mr Curran: "You're waffling and making stupid statements that I didn't say."

Mr Dunne retorted that Ulster Bank released a charge held over the property because they were so happy with his solvency at the time.

"I could have bought a horse with it. I could have gone to Las Vegas with it, but I transferred it to my wife because I owed her money."

Another Dublin site at the centre of questions was Woodtown in Rathfarnham that was sold by Mr Dunne for €75m in 2006/2007.

Answering questions on how he was paid for the asset, he told NAMA's legal team, it was with "hard cash, brought in in a suitcase and put on a table".

Mr Dunne remained silent when Mr Curran replied: "You were joking about that? It was banked?" When asked about the Glass Bottle site now, Mr Dunne said the "last I heard" his wife still owned it. Mr Dunne filed for bankruptcy in the US last year with debts of €700m, including €250m due to NAMA.

NAMA is seeking to block his discharge from bankruptcy and prevent him from walking away from his debts.

 

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