Business Irish

Thursday 22 February 2018

Christina O sails into Panama Papers

LUXURY: Sean and Gayle Dunne, who were married on board the legendary yacht, the Christina O
LUXURY: Sean and Gayle Dunne, who were married on board the legendary yacht, the Christina O
The Christina O
Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

The names of high-profile solicitor Ivor Fitzpatrick and the hugely wealthy trucking magnate Robert 'Pino' Harris have been drawn into the story of the so-called Panama Papers, thanks to their association with the legendary yacht, the Christina O.

An examination by the Sunday Independent of the leaked files of the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm show its involvement with the Christina Limited Partnership and a consortium deal put together by the blue-chip Dublin law firm Ivor Fitzpatrick & Co.

The Christina Limited Partnership, which was incorporated in the Cook Islands in April 2000, was used by Mr Harris and other investors to manage their longstanding investment in the yacht made famous by its original owner, the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis.

The appearance of the Christina Limited Partnership in the Panama Papers can be explained by the presence of a loophole in Ireland's tax laws which remained in place until it was addressed by the Revenue Commissioners in 2005. Prior to then, Irish individuals could legally offset interest paid, losses and capital allowances of a foreign-registered partnership's trade against their tax bill in Ireland.

In the case of 'Pino' Harris, the Revenue's closure of the tax loophole, which failed to distinguish between Irish-registered and foreign-registered partnerships, came too late. In 2008, the multimillionaire businessman successfully defended an appeal brought against him by the taxman after he offset the €9.1m cost of refurbishing the Christina O against his Irish tax bill. That refurbishment successfully restored the famous yacht to the levels of luxury which had made it famous under its original owner, Aristotle Onassis. Such was the level of luxury on the vessel which the Greek tycoon used as the venue for his marriage to Jackie Kennedy; on one visit with Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton exclaimed: "I don't think there is a man or woman on this earth who would not be seduced by the pure narcissism shamelessly flaunted on this boat". While some hosts would have been offended by such a remark from their guest, Onassis replied, saying: "I have found that to be so".

In the near 60 years in which it traversed the Mediterranean Sea, the Christina O's guest list included the world's most famous and most powerful people. Winston Churchill, John F Kennedy, the Begum of Aga Khan, Frank Sinatra and Maria Callas were just some of the those entertained beneath its canopied deck.

But while the yacht owes its fame to its associations with 'Ari' Onassis, in the summer of 2004 it captured the essence of Ireland's excess with the €1.5m wedding of Sean Dunne and Gayle Killilea.

Among those in attendance at the affair were Irish rugby internationals Mick Galwey and Ronan O'Gara, former Fianna Fail fundraiser Des Richardson, designers Ian Galvin and Karen Millen, Gate Theatre director Michael Colgan and former Irish Nationwide chief executive Michael Fingleton.

Mr Fingleton's ties to the Christina O went deeper thanks to his decision to advance a €2m loan to Sandyway Investments - a Dublin company headed up by solicitor Ivor Fitzpatrick - to help finance the yacht

Sunday Independent

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