Sunday 21 January 2018

Smooth solicitor swindled €52m from friends and clients

Thomas Byrne pictured soon after his practice closed down in 2007
Thomas Byrne pictured soon after his practice closed down in 2007
Thomas Byrne (47) arriving in court
Thomas Byrne pictured arriving at court
Thomas Byrne outside court during the trial
Former solicitor Thomas Byrne
Thomas Byrne
Paul and Aideen Costigan, who were betrayed by their friend Thomas Byrne.
Thomas Byrne who was found guilty of all charges in €52m fraud and theft trial
Witnesses Vera McGrane at court where she gave evidence in the trial of former Solicitor, Thomas Byrne
Former solicitor Thomas Byrne denies 51 offences
Former Solicitor Thomas Byrne (47) arriving at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court on November 5 last
Thomas Byrne
Thomas Byrne arriving at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court
Former Solicitor Thomas Byrne (47) arriving at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court on November 11, 2013

Dearbhail McDonald, Cormac McQuinn and Sam Griffin

THE smooth solicitor who stole €52m from his best friends, clients, serving gardai and six banks faces up to 20 years in prison following the biggest white-collar criminal trial in the history of the State.

Thomas Byrne was placed into custody after a jury returned unanimous guilty verdicts on all 50 charges of theft, forgery and deception.

All of the 50 offences carry a 10-year sentence -- apart from deception which carries five years -- and Byrne faces the prospect of consecutive sentences.

Byrne, who once told lenders that he earned up to €4m a year working for French fashion houses, bowed his head and clasped his hands in silence as the 50 guilty verdicts were confirmed.

He had claimed in court that he was the victim of a campaign of intimidation by his former business partner, the developer John Kelly.

Byrne said that he had been "groomed" by Mr Kelly who forced him to borrow €51.8m from the banks because they would no longer lend to him.

He claimed that he feared for his life and also the life of his seven-year-old daughter if he didn't co-operate with Mr Kelly.

But the Irish Independent has learned that Mr Kelly, who stood accused of demanding €450,000 a week from Byrne, won't face any charges in relation to Byrne's allegations of duress.

The 10-strong Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation, led by Detective Sergeant Paschal Walsh, investigated two complaints against Mr Kelly, who famously paid pop group Girls Aloud to perform at his step-daughter's 21st birthday party. Mr Kelly agreed in court proceedings in 2009 that he had a helicopter, a yacht in Marbella, a Bentley and Aston Martin cars. However, it is understood that Mr Kelly won't face prosecution.

Lawyers for Byrne said the former solicitor had got caught up "on a human level" but that he always intended to repay the loans.

He had denied using 12 properties belonging to clients as security for loans of almost €52m from six different banks and claimed his clients consented to the transfers.

The Irish Independent has also learned that new laws introduced in 2011 aimed at helping gardai investigate financial crime and advance the investigation into the former Anglo Irish Bank proved pivotal in the long-running criminal investigation.

In the wake of the financial crisis, banks sought to secure the borrowings in the Commercial Court but were reluctant to file criminal complaints.

But following the introduction of section 19 of the Criminal Justice Act 2011, which obliges bankers and others to report suspicious activity, co-operation was forthcoming.

Following yesterday's verdict, trial judge Pat McCartan said: "We are going into a period when the courts will have to deal with complex trials."

He commended the jury who have been excused from jury service for life.

"You give us great confidence that the jury and jurors of this city and county can deal with these types of cases," said the judge.

Victims of the separated father of three included a frail 91-year-old grandmother whose house was "sold" to Byrne a month before she died.

The 26-day trial heard that Kathleen Fahy could not have signed the deed of transfer to Byrne as she was very ill and confined to bed in the weeks before her death in June 2007 when the house was sold.

A former school friend of the disgraced solicitor also testified that he employed the solicitor to buy five properties, only to later find out that the properties had been transferred into Byrne's name using forged signatures without his knowledge.

Last night, Byrne's former wife Michelle Davis -- the mother of their three children -- told the Irish Independent that she was finding the trial "very difficult".

"The children are here, and me making a comment is the last thing they need," said Ms Davis.

SENTENCED

The Law Society, the ruling body for solicitors, welcomed the verdicts of the jury.

But Director General Ken Murphy said it would be inappropriate for the Society to make any further public comment until the sentencing process has been completed.

Byrne was struck off the Roll of Solicitors by the President of the High Court, on the application of the Law Society, on June 16, 2008.

He will now be sentenced in a fortnight's time, and could face consecutive sentences on some counts.

Last year the Court of Criminal Appeal ruled that a man jailed for 12 years for a €240,000 social welfare fraud should serve nine years with the final year suspended.

In the ruling, regarded as laying down a marker for future frauds, the CCA noted that the present economic state of the country calls for a high level of social solidarity.

Online Editors

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