A notorious on-the-run con woman, who is the daughter of a wealthy property tycoon and who is wanted in the UK for fleeing a trial, has told her High Court bail hearing that she is not a flight risk.
Farah Damji (54), with an address at Bachelor’s Walk, Dublin 1, appeared before Mr Justice Tony Hunt today and is applying for bail in Ireland while she awaits the hearing of extradition proceedings brought against her by the UK.
Ms Damji fled to Ireland in February this year during her trial in which she was convicted in her absence by Southwark Crown Court, London, of twice breaching a restraining order in April and June 2018.
Ms Damji is the daughter of a South African-born property tycoon and has a criminal record for fraud and theft stretching back to the 1990s.
Opposing the bail application, barrister Emily Farrell BL, for the State, told Mr Justice Hunt that Ms Damji was a flight risk and that she had arrived in Ireland after obtaining false documents.
Detective Garda Eoin Kane said that Ms Damji was facing 27 months in prison in the UK for the restraining order breaches and that when she was arrested by gardaí in Dublin last month, she gave the false Icelandic name 'Anna Margaret Vignisdottir'.
Counsel said that when gardaí challenged Ms Damji about her true identity she replied, "no comment" and only admitted her real name when in Garda custody.
Det Gda Kane said that Ms Damji used a false name when opening her bank account and did the same when entering into a rental agreement at Bachelor's Walk.
The witness said that Ms Damji was "living under the radar" and that she gave the address of a neighbouring apartment when shipping her personal belongings from the UK before meeting and directing the delivery man to her own apartment.
Det Gda Kane said that Ms Damji's father was a multi-millionaire who passed away 10 years ago and that Ms Damji claimed to gardaí that his fortune had been put into a trust for his grandchildren. He added that Ms Damji was a flight-risk with no ties to Ireland and had entered only a short-term rental lease.
Ms Damji has six convictions for 28 offences, said Det Gda Kane, which included multiple theft and fraud offences dating back to 1995 and is currently under investigation for alleged offences under the Theft and Fraud Act.
Ms Farrell put it to Det Gda Farrell that Ms Damji claimed she was of limited means. "I wouldn't accept that," said Det Gda Kane, who added that Ms Damji was in possession of a Rolex and Viking watch.
A UK psychiatrist report said that Ms Damji had contacted politicians and high-profile persons about her UK case, claiming unlawful detention, and had documents to say so but he noted her "history of forgery".
"It doesn't fill me with confidence," said Det Gda Kane.
Ms Farrell also referenced a newspaper article describing Ms Damji's father as a "property tycoon".
However, Mr Justice Hunt said he "wouldn't believe everything in the Daily Telegraph", and described it as a "Conservative rag".
Speaking from the body of the court, Ms Damji said: "He's dead. This is ridiculous."
Barrister for Ms Damji, Mr Leo Mulrooney BL, said that a diagnosis of PTSD had been offered by a psychiatrist's report on his client and he told the court that there was a risk of her condition deteriorating in prison.
Another factor in favour of granting bail, said Mr Mulrooney, was the prison environment during Covid-19.
Mr Justice Hunt said that the prison environment in Ireland "was one of the safest in the world".
Mr Mulrooney told Mr Justice Hunt that Ms Damji was restricted to a single phone call and only 15 minutes from a visitor per day while she was trying to review a civil legal matter in the UK.
Counsel said that a "strong factor" in the application for bail was her record of her adherence to bail, in that Ms Damji had only one previous case of failing to appear against her.
"What I have is evidence that she disappeared in the middle of a trial," said Mr Justice Hunt.
Mr Mulrooney put it to Det Gda Kane that video calls would be an effective way to monitor Ms Damji's whereabouts, which Det Gda rejected as "unworkable".
Mr Justice Hunt asked counsel about Ms Damji's status and was told that she was born in Uganda but had only ever held a UK passport, which had been seized by UK authorities.
Counsel said Ms Damji was not in possession of any of her father's assets and that although she had been working for a magazine in the UK on a salary of £2,500 a month, €5,000 was being offered in her own bond.
Mr Mulrooney said that since March Ms Damji had been trying to regularise her position in regards of the European Arrest Warrant with solicitors.
In her direct evidence to the court, Ms Damji said that she had been in contact with several solicitors and with the Irish Refugee Council about her case and had emails and voice notes to prove so.
Ms Damji said that she had asked solicitors to write to the Department of Justice to notify authorities that she was in Ireland but that had not happened.
Regarding ties to Ireland, Ms Damji said that the father of her daughter was in Ireland as was a cousin who was a GP
Ms Damji said that she had a breakdown during her trial in the UK and that she was told by her doctor not to attend court. She added that it was difficult for her solicitors to take instructions "from a six-minute phone call" while in custody.
Ms Damji said that she was surviving on cash she brought from the UK and, as a painter, that she had sold some artwork in Ireland.
She said there were "no hidden trust funds, it's just not true", adding that she also volunteered handing out meals to the homeless at the GPO on O'Connell Street in Dublin.
Ms Damji said that she had been unwell due to Covid-19 and that she had not gotten out much but that she had been commissioned by a florist and a shop for paintings.
Mr Justice Hunt asked Ms Damji if she would not return to the UK to handle outstanding matters.
Ms Damji said she had outstanding cases regarding civil rights and property but that her GP's letter said "you should not go to court, you should stay home".
"I was just completely triggered. The UK government was supposed to be protecting me, not persecuting me. I've an unlawful detention case for 15 months' detention," said Ms Damji.
She added that she did not use a false name on a rental agreement as she didn't have one and that she was unsure if her landlord was a real landlord at all.
"He might have an issue about whether or not who is a real tenant - kettle and the pot, is it not?" said the judge.
Ms Farrell told the court that Ms Damji had no ties to Ireland, there was no detail supplied about her GP cousin and that Ms Damji's mother and children were in the UK.
Counsel said that Ms Damji accepts that she travelled on a false document and that the concern was that she had access to money, had an ability to move countries and that no conditions would satisfy objections to bail.
Mr Justice Hunt said to Mr Mulrooney: "If you stopped the average person walking down Parkgate Street and said to them that there was a person in that building there applying for bail and that she is not a risk of flight and yet six short months ago she departed from a trial in the middle of London, what would the average person, or the average judge, say to that?"
Mr Mulrooney said that if restrictions and conditions were applied that it would be a more "finely balanced matter".
Mr Justice Hunt asked what funds were left with Ms Damji and was told by Mr Mulrooney that she had €5,000 in her flat and another €4,000 with her friend, which were available as bail money.
Mr Justice Hunt adjourned the matter to Thursday, September 3, for his decision on the bail application.