Friday 15 December 2017

Judge rejects O'Donnell's claims examination over assets 'unfair'

Tim Healy

A JUDGE has rejected claims by solicitor Brian O'Donnell that his continued court examination over his assets is unfair.

Mr O'Donnell, who was again before the Commercial Court yesterday for examination by Bank of Ireland (BoI) in its bid to enforce a €75m judgment against him, said it was unfair when the bank has also brought bankruptcy and other proceedings against him.

The bank had described as "audacious" and "laughable" Mr O'Donnell's argument the examination should be adjourned because, he claimed, it is unfair and further reducing assets available to his creditors. The bank is also blocking a proposed €5.66m sale of a skiing chalet in France, he complained.

In seeking an adjournment of the examination and a stay on other proceedings by the bank against his family, Mr O'Donnell said he was being forced to fight on several fronts to the disadvantage of his estate and the bank was trying "to have its cake and eat it".

He also complained he was on his fifth day of examination in recent months when Tony Blair was "on the stand for three hours".

Paul Gardiner, counsel for BoI, said the bank was concerned assets are being, and have been, dissipated by Mr O'Donnell despite he and his wife seeking bankruptcy in the UK last March.

Mr O'Donnell's sons Blake and Bruce are directors of a company seeking to sell Chalet Hermine, Courcheval, France, for €5.66m on foot of a resolution for sale passed at a meeting held between the sons and their father on May 17 last, counsel said.

That was six weeks after Mr O'Donnell petitioned for his own bankruptcy in the UK and after his examination began here.

The bank had €3.9m secured on that property which Mr O'Donnell previously valued at €6.9m, counsel said. That left a large sum "floating around".

Counsel also said large shareholdings of Mr O'Donnell and his wife in a number of companies had been diluted to "infinitesimal" shareholdings, including dilution last March of their shares in one company in favour of another company registered in the British Virgin Islands, in which their two sons each held 50pc shareholdings.

Given such matters, the court should not be surprised the bank regarded as "laughable" the suggestion it has acted in a manner that dissipated the O'Donnell estate, counsel said. If Mr O'Donnell had provided the information sought by the bank, his examination would not be necessary.

Replying, Mr O'Donnell said fair procedures and natural justice entitled him to an adjournment. He said the €5.66m offer for Chalet Hermine was the only offer received and was based on market value.

He was not getting anything from that proposed sale which was being held up by the bank, it having previously held up the sale of a London property for 10 days, he added.

He and his wife had to resign as directors of companies in light of the bankruptcy proceedings, he said. The bank was also pursuing his children over the family home at Gorse Hill, Killiney, Co Dublin, owned by the children via a trust put in place in 1997 with the assistance of the bank.

Refusing the adjournment, Mr Justice Kelly said the bank believes Mr O'Donnell is orchestrating steps, or has an involvement in steps, to put assets beyond its reach.

Having observed Mr O'Donnell in the witness box over four days of examination, the judge said his view at this stage was the bank's concerns were "by no means fanciful". Mr O'Donnell had given evidence at times "unsatisfactory" and at times "incredible" but could yet redeem himself by giving frank answers to questions. The examination is due to continue today.

Irish Independent

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