Sunday 18 November 2018

Gettys seek return of ?4m from 'passports for sale' scheme

JEROME REILLY THE billionaire Getty clan, who became Irish citizens under the discredited passports for sale scheme, is taking the State to court to get back the ?4m which they invested in this country.

The case to recover the cash the Gettys loaned to Punchestown racecourse seven years ago is listed for hearing in the Commercial Court, a division of the High Court, next month.

A deal brokered by businessman and Horse Racing Ireland chairman Denis Brosnan to end a protracted legal dispute between the racing authority and the Kildare Hunt Club, who owns Punchestown, has run into difficulties at the last moment. It appears to be foundering over who pays legal costs and how much money should be returned to the American oildynasty.

In an agreement with the State signed in early 1999, the Getty family handed over IR£3m using an investment vehicle called GT Equinus. The money, in the form of a loan, went to Punchestown Racecourse, then in deep financial trouble. In return, Irish passports were delivered to three members of the Getty family - Aileen Getty, Eugene Paul Getty and their mother, Gail Harris Getty - under the controversial investment for citizenship scheme.

Aileen and Eugene Paul Getty are descendents of John Paul Getty, the US businessman who ran Getty Oil and who became America's first billionaire in the Forties.

Eugene Paul Getty never fully recovered from the trauma of his kidnapping as a teenager when his ear was cut off after he was abducted by the Mafia. He had a long-running battle with drug addiction as a young man.

Aileen Getty was diagnosed HIV positive many years ago and was formerly married to Christopher Wilding, the son of film star Elizabeth Taylor.

In all, seven members of the dynasty received Irish passports after investing £7m in Ireland. Holding an Irish passport and citizenship was extremely advantageous for heirs anxious to reduce tax liabilities at home in the US. Under the terms of the controversial scheme, any adult applicant for an Irish passport had to make a minimum £1m investment in some job creation project and a substantial residence had to be bought and maintained here for at least five years.

The passports-for-sale scheme was terminated on April 20, 1998. Any applications that were in the system at that time were processed. That included the deal covering three Irish passports for the Gettys if they loaned money to Punchestown.

But in the last four years, as Punchestown returned to good financial health, the deal became bogged down in a complex legal battle between the State, represented by Horse Racing Ireland (HRI), and the Kildare Hunt Club (KHC) who have controlled the racecourse and the surrounding lands for 104 years.

KHC was given control of the lands, now totalling 466 acres, under a Deed of Trust dating back to 1902.

Members of the KHC have been at odds with the State over the terms of leases put together as part of that rescue deal. Some members felt the leases gave HRI too much control over the Punchestown land bank. The racecourse makes up just a quarter of the 189 hectares holding, a few miles outside Naas.

As a result of that opposition, the lease deal was never formally approved by the KHC.

Two years ago, the Getty investment vehicle, GT Equinus, agreed to settle for a repayment of just over ?2m - half the amount they loaned under the controversial investment scheme. But because of the on-going dispute between HRI and KHC, the money was not paid.The four other members of the Getty family who received Irish passports were: Mark Harris Getty, who kept an apartment in Dalkey; Christopher Ronald Getty, who had an address in Ballsbridge, Dublin; Tara Gabriel Getty, who had an address in Rathfarnham, Dublin; and Aridane Getty Williams.

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