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Bank calls off bailiff raid on O'Donnells


FEELING HOUNDED: Brian and Mary Patricia O'Donnell, pictured leaving the Commercial
Court, are being sued by Bank of Ireland

FEELING HOUNDED: Brian and Mary Patricia O'Donnell, pictured leaving the Commercial Court, are being sued by Bank of Ireland

FEELING HOUNDED: Brian and Mary Patricia O'Donnell, pictured leaving the Commercial Court, are being sued by Bank of Ireland

BAILIFFS were poised to strip the palatial Killiney home of bankrupt solicitor Brian O'Donnell of assets and valuables last month.

Bank of Ireland, which is suing Mr O'Donnell and his psychiatrist wife, Mary Patricia, for €75m, secured a High Court judgement against the couple in December, and last month the bank instructed the Dublin County Sheriff to execute the order by confiscating paintings, cars and any other moveable valuables that could be sold to pay the debt.

The sheriff, John Fitzpatrick, organised a posse of bailiffs to lead what was to be a surprise raid on the family home overlooking Killiney Bay. An art expert was on standby to value the works of art in the family home. However, the O'Donnells won a last-minute reprieve when Bank of Ireland called off the raid the day before it was to go ahead. The sheriff's office was not told why. However, it emerged in court last week that the family home is held in trust for the couple's four children. This puts the property itself beyond the reach of the bank but not the O'Donnells' valuables, and the order empowering the sheriff to seize them remains valid. The property boasts a swimming pool, sauna and a gym, along with tennis courts and stables. The O'Donnells have moved to London, where they have applied for bankruptcy.

In the Commercial Court last week, Mr O'Donnell described the bank's pursuit of him as a "blitzkrieg" and accused it of causing "absolute havoc" with his businesses. The couple came under further pressure on Friday when Morgan Stanley, one of Wall Street's biggest investment banks, moved to seize a €165m skyscraper in London's Canary Wharf. The O'Donnells were due to repay a €160m loan on the property on Friday but Mr O'Donnell claimed in court that Bank of Ireland's legal action had blocked his attempts to refinance the debt.

The solicitor-cum-property investor and his wife, whose property portfolio was once worth €1bn, have experienced a spectacular slump in fortunes since the recession hit.

Mr O'Donnell and his wife were in court last week to explain discrepancies in their statements of affairs prepared for the court.

Mr O'Donnell faced two days of relentless questioning in Mr Justice Peter Kelly's court. Flanked by their children -- Blake, Blaise, Bruce and Alexandra -- Mary Pat O'Donnell sat visibly shaking in the last row of the several benches normally reserved for the lawyers.

"In London and New York, these things are kept quiet. Here, they are done with full publicity," Mr O'Donnell complained, his voice rising with indignation, for the umpteenth time, at Bank of Ireland's decision to pursue him publicly for the recovery of the €75m he and his wife owe.

Whereas he and his wife had once enjoyed the high life thanks to shrewd investments in commercial real estate in Dublin, London, Stockholm and Washington DC, Mr O'Donnell -- a former partner in the leading law firm of William Fry -- told the court that their financial circumstances had now descended into a "torrid", "tragic" and "sad" state.

Bank of Ireland's aggressive approach to recovering the €75m it claimed to be owed had compounded his and his family's distress, he asserted.

Mr O'Donnell claimed that despite his repeated efforts to engage with the bank, it had mounted what he termed a "blitzkrieg" against him and his wife in its demands for repayments.

The bank had served him with no less than 18 legal documents on Christmas Eve, he said, and had put his children "under duress" to surrender their beneficial ownership of the family home or face being put "out on the street" for failure to do so.

Mr O'Donnell claimed that he and his wife, a psychiatrist by profession, were living on "very little" and that their income was "not huge".

What little income they did have was coming in the form of the fees he and his wife received for the consultancy and strategic services they provided respectively to management companies associated with their former property empire, he said.

Having secured judgement for more than €71m against Mr O'Donnell and his wife last December, the bank had since become aware that a number of their most valuable investment properties in London, as well as their palatial home in Killiney, were actually held in trust for one or more of their four children.

Of deep concern to Bank of Ireland was the fact that this arrangement had not been disclosed in the statement of affairs submitted by the O'Donnells in March of last year.

"Alarming discrepancies" between that statement and an updated version they presented last February prompted the bank to apply for orders to question them in the Commercial Court.

Asked specifically about Vico Capital -- a name by which he and his wife's property empire had come to be most readily identified during the boom -- Mr O'Donnell told the court that he regarded it as a trading name. Questioned about that description, he conceded that he had previously described it in an affidavit as a "limited liability company" (LLC) and a "partnership".

Explaining this, Mr O'Donnell said he had been using "loose language" and had not intended to mislead the court.

Coupled with his frequent shows of impatience and displeasure with the line of questioning being followed by counsel for Bank of Ireland, Mr O'Donnell's apparent casualness in relation to the making of sworn statements did not endear him to Mr Justice Kelly.

The judge suggested that that as an "experienced solicitor" he might regard the arrangements of Vico Capital as "all very shadowy indeed".

The judge went on to say that Mr O'Donnell's original statement of affairs gave a "skewed and inaccurate picture" of his worth.

A contention by Mr O'Donnell that he had not signed his initial statement of net worth was met with a particularly frosty response last Tuesday afternoon. "Come on, Mr O'Donnell, that is not an answer that does you any credit. Unless we are in Alice in Wonderland, net worth means what net worth is," he said.

Mr Justice Kelly's patience with the former high-flying solicitor appeared even more threadbare the following day, to the point where he felt compelled to instruct him to desist from "making speeches" and to answer the questions being put to him by counsel for Bank of Ireland as opposed to "interminably fencing" with him.

Mr O'Donnell returns to the witness box on Tuesday for further questioning. His wife is also expected to take the stand this week.

Sunday Independent