Sunday 18 March 2018

Dunne secret plan for wife's mansion

Sean Dunne and wife Gayle Killilea
Sean Dunne and wife Gayle Killilea
Sean Dunne: Considerable lengths on confidentiality
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Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Bust developer Sean Dunne directed plans to renovate and refurbish Ireland's most expensive house, according to an email uncovered as part of an investigation by the Insolvency Service.

Mr Dunne has always denied owning Walford, an Edwardian-era mansion on Dublin's Shrewsbury Road, and last year insisted he gifted his wife Gayle Killilea €58m to buy the property a decade ago.

However, an email written by the Carlow-born developer shows Mr Dunne personally instructed a project management firm about extensive renovation plans he had in mind for the property.

These included creating a dining room to seat up to 16 people, a separate apartment for an older child or a housekeeper, and the construction of an indoor swimming pool, with its own bar, looking out over the gardens.

The email, seen by the Irish Independent, showed Mr Dunne was concerned about confidentiality. Instead of referring to Walford by its name, the project was given the code word "Queenstown".

The developer gave instructions that any architects inspecting the property should not talk to the neighbours. If challenged, they were to say they were working on behalf of a named solicitor.

It is also clear from the email that Mr Dunne intended for it to be a family home.

The email, sent by Mr Dunne to consultant Seamus Reddan of project management firm Rogerson Reddan on February 24, 2006, was uncovered by Christopher Lehane, the official assignee in bankruptcy.

Mr Lehane has been investigating the true ownership of Walford as he believes it is a crucial issue in the bankruptcy of Mr Dunne, who has debts of almost €700m.

Mr Dunne has always denied being the purchaser of the property and previously threatened to sue media outlets which stated he was the owner.

Last year, following persistent questioning from creditors, he said it had been bought by his wife using money he gifted to her.

The ownership was held by a trust called Matsack Nominees Ltd until 2013 when Walford was sold to a mysterious Cypriot company called Yesreb Holdings Ltd for €14m.

The beneficial ownership of Yesreb is unknown and failed to emerge despite an An Bord Pleanala hearing last year.

Mr Lehane has stated in legal papers he believed Mr Dunne had a beneficial interest in Walford prior to its sale to Yesreb.

If this proves to be the case, Mr Lehane could move to recover some or all of the €14m Yesreb paid for the property.

"The ownership of Walford is a significant issue in the bankruptcy of Sean Dunne and I am obliged to establish whether it falls within the bankruptcy estate or not," Mr Lehane said in an affidavit.

In the email to Mr Reddan, which had the subject line "Queenstown", Mr Dunne gave instructions on what he required for the renovation.

These specifications were to be given to different architects to draft plans, from which one design would be chosen.

"Basically it is a competition and the best design will win the day," wrote Mr Dunne.

Outlining his vision for the house, the developer wrote: "A circa 12,000 square foot house is required on three or four storey levels.

"Ground floor or semi-basement level should consist of kitchen, utility, family room, TV, cinema/sports room and perhaps a bar."

Mr Dunne continued that the second floor should have "a large formal drawing room of significance which should reflect the house, a dining room capable of taking a dining room table for 14/16 people and a study/library and perhaps a second smaller reception room".

He wanted six bedrooms.

"The master bedroom should be to the rear of the house and have a large walk-in dressing room and a large en-suite. The en-suite should have a double sink, bath, shower and the shower room should be capable of being converted into a steam room."

Mr Dunne suggested a separate apartment.

"This would envisage an older child who wanted to remain living in the house or a housekeeper having their own separate entrance, but same would also be connected by a door to the corridor of the house."

The businessman said he would forward Mr Reddan the design for a swimming pool at the rear of the house.

"The swimming pool area should be capable of being converted into an entertainment area and again have its own bar or facility to set up a bar when same is being used for entertainment. The front of the swimming pool should be predominantly glazed and looking across the garden and facing south/southwest."

Mr Dunne also said he wanted plans for "three substantial houses, ranging in size from 7,000/9,000 square foot" at the rear of the property.

In the email, he did not give any further specifications for the houses apart from saying: "These should be substantial houses reflecting the architecture in the area and accessed via a separate drive."

Three failed attempts were subsequently made by Matsack to secure planning permission.

Another failed attempt was made by representatives of Yesreb to secure planning permission last year and the property is now in a derelict state.

The investigation into Walford's ownership is just one strand in an extremely complex bankruptcy process involving courts in Ireland, the US and South Africa.

Mr Dunne is undergoing dual bankruptcies in Ireland and Connecticut.

Irish Independent

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