Tuesday 17 October 2017

Thomas Byrne 'effectively admitted defrauding €52m from banks', court told

Conor Gallagher

FORMER solicitor Thomas Byrne has effectively admitted to defrauding the banks out of €52 million, the prosecution have said at the closing of his trial.

In his closing speech on day 22 of the trial, Remy Farrell SC said that Mr Byrne has offered no defence to allegations that he lied and used fraudulent documents to obtain commercial loans from six financial institutions.

The prosecuting counsel said the case brings to mind a phrase he once heard: “You wouldn’t believe the radio in that fella’s car.”

He said that Mr Byrne is “a gambler” who is possibly hoping the jury will feel that he is exonerated because the banks engaged in reckless lending.

Referring to the charges that the accused defrauded eleven clients out of their homes or money, Mr Farrell questioned why these people would sign away their houses “for absolutely no good reason.”

Mr Byrne claims he took possession of these houses legitimately to use as collateral for his bank loans. Mr Farrell asked, if this was the case, why was there no paper trial showing these legitimate deals?

Defence counsel Damien Colgan SC told the jury there were “cracks” in the prosecution case  and that Mr Byrne must be given the benefit of the doubt.

He said his client got caught up “on a human level” in the bank’s reckless lending but that he always intended to repay the loans .

Mr Byrne (47) of Walkinstown Road, Crumlin is accused of theft and fraud offences totalling €51.8 million. The charges allege he transferred clients’ homes into his name and then used them as collateral for property loans.

He has pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 50 counts of theft, forgery, using forged documents and deception between 2004 and 2007.

Referring to Mr Byrne’s claims that his clients agreed to sign over their properties to him with the promise of being paid later, Mr Farrell said: “Isn’t it amazing that not even a yellow post-it note exists in relation to these deals.”

Counsel continued: “Mr Byrne’s defence seems to be that the dog ate his homework, not once, not twice, but ten times or more.”

He said the accused was asking the jury to believe that eleven of Mr Byrne’s clients “spontaneously decided to make up a story” about him.”

The barrister told the jury that the legal defence of duress does not apply and was not being claimed by Mr Byrne. He said that Mr Byrne has admitted defrauding the banks and has offered “no cogent defence”.

The prosecuting counsel said Mr Byrne has tried to suggest some of the banks were conniving with him in the fraud. He said even if this was true it does not mean the solicitor is any less guilty.

He called the accused a gambler who kept playing for ever higher stakes as the loans piled up around him. He said even when everything came crashing down in October 2007, Mr Byrne still made “one last gasp” to stop the authorities finding out by pleading with his employee not to go to the Law Society.

Counsel also asked the jury to reject Mr Byrne’s characterisation of himself as “a battered spouse” at the hands of his former partner John Kelly who was made out to be a “vampire bleeding him dry.”

The accused’s defence counsel told the jury in his closing speech that Mr Byrne was under huge pressure from Mr Kelly to get these loans but acknowledged his client is not running a legal defence of duress.

He asked the jury to consider that his client’s action occurred at the height of the Celtic Tiger when people were “queuing around the corner” to buy houses.

He said the jurors must ask themselves was it possible that Mr Byrne’s clients entered into the agreements with him and then backtracked when everything feel apart.

He also questioned why Mr Byrne would get involved in such a “hare brained scheme” if he was as clever and manipulative as the prosecution maintain.

Mr Colgan told the jury his client may have been stupid, foolish and weak but it was not his intention to defraud people.

Closing speeches have concluded in the case. The jury of seven men and five women will hear from Judge Patrick McCartan on Monday before considering a verdict.

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