Sunday 18 March 2018

Former client Kelly drove a Bentley and once hired Girls Aloud for 21st party

Thomas Byrne's former business partner and client John Kelly
Thomas Byrne's former business partner and client John Kelly

Cormac McQuinn and Dearbhail McDonald

HE'S the developer whose name has arisen frequently throughout the trial of solicitor Thomas Byrne, despite not being before the court on any charges.

John Kelly -- according to Byrne -- was a "thug in a suit" with a "voracious appetite for money, but no income of his own" who lived off the numerous loans the crooked solicitor was securing for him.

If Byrne is to be believed, Mr Kelly wanted to be a "mover and shaker in the Irish economy", and he was allegedly prepared to issue threats against the solicitor and his family to reach that goal.

The 50-year-old was Byrne's biggest client and between them the pair's transactions over nine years amounted to more than €100m, according to reports from the long-running legal battles that ensued when their relationship soured.

By 2007, Mr Kelly was allegedly demanding €450,000 a week; demands, Byrne said, that drove him to alcoholism.

As Byrne put it in his testimony: "I was terrified of the man. I was more in fear for my family's welfare because he knew everything about them and he knew where they lived."

Attempts by the Irish Independent to track down Mr Kelly to hear his side of the story in recent days were unsuccessful.

There was no answer to the buzzer at his sprawling home in Kilquade, Co Wicklow, where he used to fly in by helicopter. It boasts a tennis court and a large garage where he kept his collection of flash cars, including a Bentley and Aston Martins.

A mobile phone number associated with him was apparently switched off and not accepting voicemails; while his solicitor, Tom Casey, said he could not contact Mr Kelly last night to relay our request for an interview. Reports from 2012 suggest Mr Kelly moved to Britain. Mr Casey said he didn't know where Mr Kelly was living now, only that he "moves around".

It's all a far cry from the heady days of the Celtic Tiger when Mr Kelly famously hired pop group Girls Aloud to play at his daughter's 21st birthday party.

It emerged in court that he and Byrne hosted a party in the Four Seasons Hotel, where then-Justice Minister Michael McDowell spoke, along with comedian Ardal O'Hanlon.

Byrne's fraud trial is the latest in a series of legal proceedings that have put the spotlight on Mr Kelly's time as a developer.

In 2008, EBS secured a €22m judgment against him over loans he received between 2002 and 2007.

Property papers for his Co Wicklow house showed how Ulster Bank secured a €2.8m judgement against him in the same year, and AIB's credit card division secured a further judgement of an unspecified sum in 2011.

Mr Kelly sued Byrne for damages of €6.1m, claiming that the sum was the amount the solicitor should have paid as part of a transaction involving the refinancing of an EBS loan. In 2011, the High Court found that Byrne did not have to pay Mr Kelly the sum because the developer knew the solicitor was "playing the system".

He had also sought an order that he was the owner of a 16-acre site in Oilgate, Co Wexford, and was successful in that part of the legal action.

Mr Kelly's name, and that of his partner Mary O'Connor -- who originally introduced the pair -- arose frequently during the latest proceedings.

Byrne made a string of allegations against Mr Kelly and his partner during the course of the case, alleging that the developer was "grooming" him to secure multi-million euro loans on his behalf because banks wouldn't lend to him.

He claimed that the pair made veiled threats, with Mr Kelly telling him that his brother was involved with "people up North" and Ms O'Connor made a reference to his daughter when he refused to hand over €250,000 so that Mr Kelly could travel to Spain.

He said after he had told her to "f*** off" that Ms O'Connor commented that his daughter was wearing a beautiful outfit to school that day. Byrne added: "That was the way they threatened me and my family."

Byrne alleged that Mr Kelly told him to leave the country or "there would be serious consequences" on the same day in October 2007 that he was handed €10,000 by a sister of Ms O'Connor's in the walk-in freezer of a Centra shop, before taking a ferry to Holyhead.

As he put it, Mr Kelly "inveigled" his way into his practice, demanding nearly €8m over the years to fund what Byrne described as his "outlandish" lifestyle.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News