Sunday 24 September 2017

Thomas Byrne found guilty of all charges in €52m fraud and theft trial

Case was the biggest white collar criminal trial in modern Irish history

Thomas Byrne (47) arriving court earlier
Thomas Byrne (47) arriving court earlier

FORMER solicitor Thomas Byrne has been found guilty of 50 counts of theft, fraud and forgery charges following the biggest white collar criminal trial in modern Irish history.

Mr Byrne, who sat with his head bowed as the verdicts were read out, was remanded in custody and is to be sentenced on Monday 2nd December.

Today a jury of seven men and five women returned a unanimous verdict on 50 separate counts after considering their verdict for 17 hours and 29 minutes.

The jury were thanked by trial judge Patrick McCartan after a 29 day trial or almost six weeks.

"I don't think I have worked with a jury as unique as you," Judge McCartan told the jury.

Mr Byrne (47) from Walkinstown Road, Crumlin, was accused of 50 theft and fraud offences totalling EUR 51.8m.

The charges alleged he transferred clients' homes into his name and then used them as collateral for property loans.

Mr Byrne, a separated father of three, pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 50 counts of theft, forgery, using forged documents and deception between 2004

The former solicitor, who gave evidence in his own defence during the 23 day trial, denied using 12 properties belonging to clients as security for loans of almost €52m from six different banks.

He claimed his clients consented to the transfers.

He also claimed the loans were taken out under duress as his life was threatened by his business partner, the property developer John Kelly.

Mr Byrne was described by prosecutor Remy Farrell SC as "a gambler" who possible hoped the jury would feel that he (Byrne) was exonerated because the banks engaged in reckless lending.

But Damian Colgan SC, for Mr Byrne, said the solicitor had got caught up "on a human level" in the bank's reckless lending but that he always intended to repay the loans.

Last Tuesday the jury heard a summary of the 23 day trial from Judge Patrick McCartan who also advised them on several matters of law.

Mr Byrne told the trial that his former business partner John Kelly forced him to borrow €51.8 million from the banks because they would no longer lend to him.

Byrne claimed that he feared for his life and also the life of his seven year old daughter if he didn’t co-operate with Mr Kelly.

Judge McCartan told the jurors that they could not consider this as defence as Mr Byrne was not under duress in the legal sense of the word.

The judge said the defence had not met several conditions necessary to run a legal defence of duress.

He said that if a defendant wishes to rely on duress, the threats against them must be linked to specific instances of offending instead of a general claim of intimidation.

A defendant claiming duress must also have gone to the authorities as soon as possible after the offence.

 Judge McCartan said there was no evidence that Mr Byrne complained to gardai at any stage about being threatened by Mr Kelly.

“The law says that’s not good enough,” the judge said.

Judge McCartan said that Mr Byrne was claiming duress “in a human sense” but can’t claim it in a legal sense.

The jury was also told that the fact that some of the banks got their money back does not mean a offence did not occur.

 He said that the alleged offence occurred when the money landed in Mr Byrne’s account.

He said Mr Byrne’s claims that he intended to repay the bank loans in full also did not offer a defence.

The jury of seven men and five women began their deliberations at midday on Monday November 11th last.

They were given three large folders containing 300 exhibits as well as a laptop to view documents digitally.

A poster sized flow chart was also provided detailing the allegations against Mr Byrne.

By Dearbhail McDonald

Legal Editor

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