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Ownership row over Mansfield jet

Confusion over owner will hamper Nama efforts to sell €1.5m plane

Francis Long

Published 24/04/2011 | 08:10

AN executive jet worth €1.5m seized by Nama last week from the empire of indebted property developer Jim Mansfield was once impounded by Belgian authorities after they found 49kg of heroin on board.

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However, the trophy asset of the beleaguered Mansfield Group, a Cessna Citation Executive Jet, will be difficult for Nama's receiver to sell off, because it is unclear who actually owns it.

According to the Mansfield Group the jet is owned by Weston Airport, which was placed into receivership by the Nama last week after it lost patience with efforts by the Mansfield Group to repay its debts, believed to be "tens of millions" of euro.

However, according to the United States Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) the jet's registered owner is listed as "Longborough Aviation Inc Trustee" in Wilmington, Delaware, USA.

A spokesperson for the Mansfield Group said, "The jet is part of a busy commercial airport at Weston Executive Airport.

"The jet is used commercially in that it is hired out by Weston Airport. It has not been used privately for 18 months. The jet is not leased, it is owned by the Mansfield Group."

The jet is a 1993 Cessna now worth €1.5m. The FAA lists an airworthiness certificate issued to this aircraft on December 20, 2010. The certificate will expire on December 31, 2013. A temporary certificate was issued on December 21, 2010, and expired on January 20, 2011.

On September 26, 2006, the jet, emblazoned with the moniker of "The Mansfield Group" was impounded at Wevelgem Airport in Belgium after a drug courier was found carrying heroin on board.

The jet was on hire at the time to former boxer and aviation broker John Kinsella, 39, of Carne Wood, Johnstown, Navan, Co Meath. Kinsella later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import €7m worth of cocaine and heroin into Ireland and was jailed for seven years.

Mr Mansfield, who later declared there were "no drugs in my business" was totally unaware that the jet was being used for illegal purposes.

Last week, Nama's receiver took possession of Weston Airport, Palmerstown House Hotel and Golf Course and six apartments belonging to company founder Jim Mansfield. The entrepreneur had other assets seized last year to help repay a loan of €180m made by Bank of Scotland Ireland (BoSI). Assets repossessed at that time included the City West Hotel and Conference Centre, a language school, townhouses and land.

A source close to the company has revealed that BoSI was unable to seize Weston Airport and the jet because "the title deeds for these assets were not attached to the loan deal". The source added that "the €180m owed to BoSI has not been paid".

Now Nama has stepped in and taken Weston Airport into receivership.

Nama had previously warned its largest debtors to "avoid ostentatious displays of wealth" after several of them were pictured arriving at race meetings in private helicopters despite being millions of euro in debt. However, according to one pilot working at Weston Aerodrome, private jets were the "must-have accessory" for many developers during the property boom as banks loaned them hundreds of millions of euro, which the Irish taxpayer must now repay.

"They could have leased the jets," he said. "But they were too proud. One of them bought a jet for €18m, now he's struggling to sell it for €3m."

Mr Mansfield is just the latest in a line of businessmen to have their assets placed in receivership as Nama gets tough on debtors with multi-million euro loans. The developer and former tax inspector Derek Quinlan had assets placed in receivership recently, as did Cavan entrepreneur Sean Quinn. Paddy Kelly also had a number of hotels placed in receivership in recent weeks.

However like the jet, the assets are not worth the value they had during the boom. According to one source close to the Mansfield Group, "If you tried to sell the jet, you couldn't give it away."

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