independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Thomas Byrne: I was brought into a walk-in freezer and given €10k and a hug

Thomas Byrne (47) at court earlier this week
Thomas Byrne (47) at court earlier this week

FORMER solicitor Thomas Byrne has claimed he thought he was "going to be killed" after he was was told to "leave the country" by a former business partner.

Giving evidence in his defence at his criminal trial, Mr Byrne said he was brought into a walk in freezer at the back of a Centra shop and given €10k and a hug by a woman days before his legal practice was shut down by the Law Society in October 2007.

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.

The separated father of three has pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 51 counts of theft, forgery, using forged documents and deception between 2004 and 2007.

" I'm not here to say I'm completely  innocent, of course I'm not," said Mr Byrne who admitted forging the signature of a solicitor colleague.

"I'm here to face the music'" said Mr Byrne, adding " I'm terrified of what's going to happen".

Mr Byrne broke down several times in the witness box this morning (FRI) at the Circuit Criminal Court as he revealed how his solicitor, Dave Christie, encouraged him to return to Ireland and tell the truth after he left the country in 2007 in the wake of the incident in the Centra shop.

Mr Byrne said that the Law Society, the ruling body for solicitors, knew he was drawing down loans on behalf of his former business partner John Kelly but "didn't care" because all the Society cared about was balancing the books.

Mr Byrne has also told the Circuit Criminal Court that there was a "huge appetite" in the banks to lend money and they (the banks) frequently contacted him with a view to giving loans to his clients.

Mr Byrne told the Circuit Criminal Court this morning (FRI) that he " became afraid" of his former business partner John Kelly who, Mr Byrne says, told him to leave the country on October 18, 2007.

Mr Byrne said that he was "essentially financing" the lifestyle of Mr Kelly whom the former solicitor claimed had a "voracious appetite for money" even though he had no income.

"I never had an intention to defraud anybody," Mr Byrne told the jury of seven men and five women.

Mr Byrne said that Mr Kelly introduced him (Byrne) to all of the banks with a view to the then solicitor procuring loans on Mr Kelly's behalf.

"The banks loved him (John Kelly), they would throw money at him," said Mr Byrne who said that he did not know why Mr Kelly was not before the courts.

Mr Byrne said that Mr Kelly made it his business to be a "mover and shaker in the Irish economy" and outlined a series of parties and launches attended by high profile figures including former Justice Minister Michael McDowell  and former Tanaiste Mary Harney.

Mr Byrne also claimed that he was requested to make donations to the Labour Party.

Yesterday one charge alleging the forgery of a document associated with a house in Cabra was withdrawn by direction of trial judge Patrick McCartan due to lack of evidence.

The prosecution finished their case on Thursday after 16 days of evidence.

The final prosecution witness was Detective Sergeant Paschal Walsh who headed the garda investigation into Mr Byrne after the Law Society shut down his practice in October 2007.

The trial continues.

Dearbhail McDonald, Legal Editor

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