Wednesday 21 February 2018

Is Dunne 'puppet master' over wife Gayle, US judge asks lawyers

Sean Dunne and Gayle Killilea
Sean Dunne and Gayle Killilea

Orlaith Farrell

A US Judge has told lawyers for bust developer Sean Dunne that it's up to the bankruptcy court to establish if he is a "puppet master" over his wife Gayle.

The court-appointed bankruptcy trustee handling Mr Dunne's case yesterday secured access to the details of European family law proceedings involving the developer – but only on the condition the information is kept confidential.

In-camera proceedings are at the centre of an investigation by the trustee Richard Coan into how Mr Dunne's wife Gayle Killilea Dunne is owed $44m (€32m) by the developer.

Earlier this month, Ulster Bank – which secured a €150m judgment against Mr Dunne prior to him declaring himself bankrupt in Connecticut last year – joined Mr Coan in questioning whether the couple were still married.

Yesterday, in an exchange with Gayle's lawyer Peter Nolin, Judge Alan Shiff said the aim of examining the couple's personal documents is "to find out if the relationship of your client is that of a puppet. Is Sean Dunne a puppet master?"

Mr Dunne has said the €32m debt was the result of a family law case taken against him by his wife in 2010 in Switzerland after he failed to honour a 2005 deal to give her €100m in return for "love and affection". The Carlow-born businessman has refused to answer questions on the proceedings at any creditors' meetings, claiming it would breach Irish 'in-camera' laws.

In previous papers, demanding details of the Swiss proceedings, the trustee Mr Coan questioned whether the couple were still married.

The Irish High Court has previously ordered that details of the Swiss legal action be given to the official assignee handling the Irish case, Chris Lehane, on the condition they be kept confidential.

Judge Shiff said that it was "necessary and appropriate" to respect the Irish proceedings and ordered the trustee examine the documents, adhering to the same confidentiality agreement. Lawyers for Mr Dunne and Ms Killilea supported the motion, insisting that their clients had offered the trustee access to the information last year, on that basis.

Ms Dunne is the subject of several discovery requests from the trustee and NAMA, one of Mr Dunne's main creditors.

Hearing the arguments of Ms Dunne's legal team yesterday, Judge Shiff said it should be no indication that she has any standing in the case. "She is the wife, I'm guessing, I don't know what the relationship between Ms Killilea and Mr Dunne is."

Lawyer for Ms Dunne, Peter Nolin, told the bankruptcy court in Connecticut that his client's architects, law firms and tax advisers had been probed as part of the investigation into her husband's financial affairs and the former journalist was now losing out on business as a result of extensive demands for information.

Agreeing to establish the relevance of some of the documents, Mr Shiff told lawyers for the mother of three that there was a "suspicion at least" that some of the assets central to the investigation were Mr Dunne's and the Carlow-born business man was the one setting up corporations.

It was up to the court to decide, he said, if Ms Dunne was "nominal person" and it's "really Sean Dunne controlling the levers".

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

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

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News