Monday 11 December 2017

Executives trying to set up rival lessor with firm's secrets, court told

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Tim Healy

THREE executives who resigned last month from an Irish and US-based aviation leasing group are trying to set up a rival $100m company using confidential information taken from their former employer, it has been claimed in the High Court.

Former Stellwagen Group chief financial officer Howard Millar and two other directors, Edward Coughlan and Edward Hansom, are behind what Stellwagen founder and chief executive, Douglas L Brennan, says is their unlawful and clandestine misuse and distribution of commercially sensitive and highly confidential material acquired by them during their employment.

He claims there is clear evidence of a concerted effort by the defendants to divert highly valuable business away from the group companies, which include Stellwagen Capital, Seraph Aviation Management and Guardian Holdings.

Mr Justice Paul Gilligan, following an ex-parte (one side only represented) application by James Doherty SC, with Stephen Byrne BL, granted interim orders preventing the three from using, disposing or dealing with confidential information, and requiring them to comply with non-compete and non-solicitation clauses in their contracts.

The order also requires them not to delete any information held by them. The case comes back to court next week.

Mr Brennan says, in an affidavit, their activities commenced prior to their resignations which all came in the space of a minute on September 4 last. Their letters were phrased in similar terms and did not offer any reason for resigning.

They were among the most senior executives in the group and privy to "an enormous quantity of documentation and information of the utmost commercial sensitivity", he said.

Mr Brennan says Mr Howard consistently refused to accept he remains bound to confidentiality as per his contract and is now claiming he was constructively dismissed. Following investigations, the group has discovered clear and cogent evidence of extensive efforts by all three to breach the legal and fiduciary duties owed by them to the group.

The investigations, by a forensic IT company, have discovered dealings by the defendants relating to major aircraft leasing contracts involving Air Senegal and the Abu Dhabi Financial Group in the UAE.

A matter of "greatest concern" was discovered this week when a number of documents were uncovered in a downloads folder in Mr Coughlan's laptop relating to a business venture called "Airgreen" under which it is proposed to raise $100m in equity by November 30 next.

Mr Millar is to be chief executive of the new venture while Mr Hansom is to be chief risk officer and Mr Coughlan the chief commercial officer, according to the uncovered documents.

On the face of it, the draft heads of terms of this new venture amount to a "blatant and concerted attempt by the defendants to divert business holding a major commercial value" away from the Stellwagen Group, Mr Brennan said.

Irish Independent

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