Tuesday 28 March 2017

Wife of property developer Sean Dunne fails to stop High Court inquiry into alleged invalid transfer of €100m assets

Gayle Killilea Dunne and Sean Dunne
Gayle Killilea Dunne and Sean Dunne

GAYLE Dunne, wife of property developer Sean Dunne, has failed to stop a High Court inquiry into €100m worth of assets which it was alleged were invalidly transferred from her husband to her.

Ms Justice Caroline Costello ruled Ireland was the correct location for the hearing of whether the asset transfers were invalid.

The assets are worth around €100m. 

Chris Lehane, the official administering Mr Dunne's Irish bankruptcy, has sought orders setting aside the transfers.

His proceedings against Mrs Dunne related to two alleged agreements between the Dunnes in 2005 and 2008.

They concerned assets including the Lagoon Beach Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa and interests in properties in Dublin, including on Shrewsbury Road and in Wicklow.

In March 2013, Mr Dunne filed for bankruptcy in the US state of Connecticut, where he was based.

In July 2013, he was adjudicated bankrupt in Ireland. That adjudication was upheld by the  Supreme Court.

Mrs Dunne claimed the transfers were entered into as compensation for when she started a family with Mr Dunne over her career as a journalist and prospective career as a lawyer.

Mr Lehane claimed the alleged agreements have no legal status.

In a preliminary application to the High Court,  Mrs Dunne, with an addresses at Greenwich, Connecticut, and in London, wanted the proceedings aimed at setting aside the transfer discontinued.

She claimed the transfers are already the subject of bankruptcy proceedings in the US, where Mr Dunne has also been adjudicated bankrupt.

The Irish proceedings are oppressive and any challenge to the alleged transfers should be determined by the US courts, she claimed.

It was also argued Mr Lehane lacked the legal standing to seek to set aside the transfers, and has no entitlement to sue.

This was because the estate of Mr Dunne was vested in the US  bankruptcy trustee and not with Mr Lehane's office. There was also a duplication of issues in various proceedings brought in Ireland and the US, which she argued was unfair.

Mr Lehane opposed the application and denied there was any unfairness or an abuse of process.

The assets involved were either Irish assets or entities held through an Irish company, he said.

Ms Justice Costello Wednesday (July 27) dismissed Mrs Dunne's application.

The judge said Mrs Dunne had "failed to establish that Ireland was not the correct forum for the trial of the proceedings."

Ireland is the forum "with the most real and substantial connection to the dispute the subject matter of the proceedings," she said. 

Mrs Dunne had also failed to establish that "there exists another jurisdiction where it is more convenient for the issues in dispute to be tried and determined".

Mrs Dunne had also failed to establish that the continuance of the proceedings amounted to an abuse of process or represent an injustice to her.

The judge adjourned the matter to a date in October.

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