Business Irish

Friday 17 January 2020

O'Donnell accuses BoI of 'character assassination' in UK bankruptcy bid

Shane Hickey in London

SOLICITOR and property investor Brian O'Donnell has claimed that his character has been assassinated and that he has been vilified by Bank of Ireland in a case where the bank is objecting to his bid to be declared bankrupt in Britain.

In his first day of evidence in the London High Court, Mr O'Donnell denied a series of suggestions that explanations he gave in court were "nonsense" and "not credible".

The solicitor and his wife, Mary Pat O'Donnell, contend that their centre of main interest (COMI) is in the UK and that they should therefore be allowed declare bankruptcy there, where there are more favourable conditions. The bank contests this.

Under Irish law, bankruptcy can take up to 12 years to be completed, while in the UK it can take as little as 12 months.

Paul Burton, representing Mr O'Donnell, said there had been a "character assassination" of his client by the bank and that Mr O'Donnell had been painted as a "menace".

Bank of Ireland had initially competed to get his business but now accused him of dishonest and opportunistic behaviour, said Mr Burton.

The O'Donnells claim that they have been resident in the UK for the last seven years, centred in a house on Barton Street in Westminster, near the Houses of Parliament.

In cross-examination, Gabriel Moss, for the bank, questioned why property-management fee income of £120,000 (€151,000) was not on bankruptcy documents. Mr O'Donnell said they had "misread" the form and were not clear what to put in.

When Mr Moss said his explanation was "not credible", Mr O'Donnell said they had been under extreme pressure to answer to the best of their ability and they had done so.

"Our income has been exposed to the world," he said.

Management fees of £120,000 (€151,000) were received in 2010 on a ski chalet in Courchevel in the French Alps, which rented for £45,000 (€55,000) a week at peak season, the court heard. Mr O'Donnell denied that he had transferred the right to earn the money to his sons when it was passed to them.

Ski chalet

He said their property company, Vico Capital, had been run from London since 2005 and that their Westminster property was the headquarters of the operation.

Questioned on whether there were any employees in the residential property, he said they came and went from places where they were required, such as Dublin and Sweden.

Mr Moss said there was a restrictive covenant on the title of the property, which meant it could only be used as a residence but Mr O'Donnell said he was not aware of this. The person he had bought it from, he said, had previously run a hedge fund from it.

It is expected that Mr O'Donnell will be in the witness stand for a number of days.

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