Sunday 15 December 2019

Offshore companies used in bid 'to hide McFeely's ownership' of London apartments

Developer and former IRA hunger striker Tom McFeely Photo: Collins Courts
Developer and former IRA hunger striker Tom McFeely Photo: Collins Courts
Athena Court in Stratford near London's Olympic stadium Photo: National Pictures / Nick Edwards
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

A web of offshore companies was used to shield controversial builder Tom McFeely's ownership of an apartment building close to London's Olympic stadium, an Insolvency Service official has claimed.

The allegation was one of several levelled against the Priory Hall developer as part of proceedings issued by official assignee Christopher Lehane aimed at prolonging his bankruptcy for another five years.

Mr McFeely (67) has claimed he is merely a trustee of a company called Ashwood Enterprises Ltd, which previously owned Athena Court, a 28- storey complex in Stratford, not far from the Olympic Park.

The developer has denied claims he used the Isle of Man registered company to salt away €3.5m in rent from the complex which could have gone to his creditors.

According to Mr Lehane, most of the shares in Ashwood are owned by a mysterious entity called Taupin Trustee Ltd on the Caribbean island of Nevis.

Companies registered in the Isle of Man are not obliged to publicly disclose the identities of shareholders or beneficial owners.

In a filing to the High Court, Mr Lehane said the holding of development land through an offshore vehicle was "a common practice to shelter any gain arising from the enhancement in value of the site from capital gains tax in England".

The row over whether Mr McFeely owned Ashwood is the latest in a series of flashpoints in a bruising bankruptcy battle being fought by the developer and the official assignee.

Court papers detail the fractious relationship between the pair since Mr McFeely, a one-time IRA hunger striker, was declared bankrupt in 2012 with debts of €220m.

Mr Lehane, whose job it is to manage the estate of bankrupts and distribute their assets to creditors, has accused Mr McFeely of being "aggressive", of failing to disclose all his assets, and of thwarting investigations into his affairs.

In turn, Mr McFeely alleged the official assignee was biased against him because of his northern republican background. He has also denied failing to disclose any assets, saying he had responded to "all reasonable enquiries".

The Derry-born developer has never been far from the headlines since residents of Priory Hall in Donaghmede, north Dublin, had to be evacuated due to serious concerns over fire safety in 2011.

Mr McFeely developed the apartment complex with his former business partner Larry O'Mahony.

An extensive refit of the apartment complex, which is nearing completion, is now set to cost taxpayers up to €27m.

Both men have since gone bust, with Mr McFeely enduring a high-profile eviction from his €4m home on Dublin's Ailesbury Road.

The dispute over the ownership of Ashwood was cited by Mr Lehane as one of the reasons why Mr McFeely should have his period in bankruptcy prolonged.

Mr McFeely had been due to emerge from bankruptcy during the summer, but this was delayed following an objection from the official assignee.

The High Court is set to decide soon whether Mr McFeely's bankruptcy period should be extended.

Nama moved to have a receiver appointed to the Stratford apartment building last year after a McFeely- owned company failed to repay a €62m loan from Bank of Ireland.

It was subsequently sold for a reported Stg£30m (€42.3m).

Mr McFeely and his brother Conal are currently involved in a legal dispute over the appointment of the receiver.

A previous legal action heard claims €3.75m in rent from the apartment building had been salted away by Mr McFeely, an allegation he denied.

In court filings, Mr Lehane stated, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, it was his "view that Ashwood is a vehicle which ultimately belongs to the bankrupt".

"I have no doubt that Mr Thomas McFeely's bankruptcy estate is still owner of Ashwood and the total lack of cooperation of Thomas McFeely is thwarting me carrying out my investigations on these and other assets of Mr McFeely," said Mr Lehane.

Irish Independent

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