Government bid to free Irish executive confined in China

Tánaiste Simon Coveney aware of issues facing respected aviation director

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney. Picture: Thierry Monasse

Fearghal O'Connor

A senior Irish aviation leasing executive has been barred from leaving China by authorities in that country for almost a year, the Sunday Independent has learned.

Senior members of Government and consular officials are personally involved in trying to secure the return to Ireland of Richard O'Halloran, who is from a well-known south Dublin family.

Sources said that O'Halloran is highly regarded in Dublin aviation leasing circles and "through absolutely no fault of his own" had been caught up in a complicated situation "that has nothing to do with him", but which involves separate businesses belonging to the Chinese owner of the aviation leasing firm for which he works here in Ireland.

A spokesman for Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said: "The Tánaiste is aware of the case but we cannot comment on consular matters."

O'Halloran, a director of Dublin-registered China International Aviation Leasing Service Ltd (CALS), had travelled to China approximately 11 months ago, some time after the Chinese owner of his company had become the focus of an unrelated investigation by authorities there.

It had previously been reported in the aviation leasing industry press that the Chinese owner of CALS was under investigation as part of a crackdown by the authorities on the country's peer-to-peer lending industry - a sector in which the Chinese owner of the firm was involved through other companies.

Dublin-based CALS, which focused on buying and leasing single commercial aircraft, had been in the process of purchasing a Boeing 737 with a $2m (€1.8m) deposit loaned to it by one of the financial companies connected to its Chinese owner.

That deal was abandoned after the Chinese owner, who also served as chairman of CALS, was detained by authorities in Shanghai.

Sources said that O'Halloran had travelled to China some months later but was subsequently denied permission to leave.

The Sunday Independent contacted a number of people connected to CALS, including its former Hong Kong-based chief executive, but they declined to comment on O'Halloran's situation.

The Foxrock businessman, whose father is a well-known architect and who is also related to the family of former taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, has been unable to leave China but is allowed to leave the hotel in which he is staying, it is understood.