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Smurfit silent over partner's K Club support

Multi-Millionaire Dr Michael Smurfit has refused to comment on suggestions he made that his business partner -- leading property developer Gerry Gannon -- is not currently contributing to the upkeep of the prestigious K Club in Co Kildare.

The business titan shocked members of the private club when he revealed he is now shouldering the entire costs of the business venture he took on with Mr Gannon in 2005.

The claim was made in a letter read out on behalf of Dr Smurfit at an extraordinary general meeting (egm) shortly after 7pm last Monday night.

Outlining the serious financial difficulties facing the club in grips of the economic downturn, he told members: "I am the sole financial supporter at this time."

The packaging tycoon made the admission as he outlined the reasons to members of the private golf club as to why he would not be able to reduce their annual fees for golf membership in the coming year -- which stand at €6,950 plus VAT.

"Dr Smurfit wanted to make members fully aware of financial situation as it stands. He said that he has a responsibility as owner to ensure that the business continues in a viable manner," said one K Club member.

"His letter explained to members, who had called the egm to discuss a reduction in fees, that if they did not accept what he was saying then he couldn't reduce the fees and if they didn't accept that they would have to leave, but he would regret any member doing that."

Dr Smurfit told the Sunday Independent from his office in Monaco that he had "no comment" to make on the matter. Mr Gannon did not respond to calls or written requests for an interview.

Mr Gannon and Michael Smurfit bought the Kildare golf club in June 2005 from the then Jefferson Smurfit Group for €115m. As part of the deal, the businessmen also acquired 100 acres of farmland adjoining the course.

The estate became a Mecca for Ireland's mega-rich -- including Irish racing tycoons John Magnier and Vincent O'Brien, businessman Ben Dunne, property developer Seamus Ross and Ballymore boss Sean Mulryan, each of whom purchased properties on the land.

In 2006 the pair went on to bring the world's most prestigious golf competition, the Ryder Cup, to Ireland amidst much trumpet and fanfare, turning the focus of the golfing world towards the small Straffan village and bringing with it a showcase of top-class golfers from Tiger Woods to Darren Clarke.

Roscommon-born Gerry Gannon, who is rarely seen without his trademark hat, is one of the country's best-known property developers, having amassed some €182m from his building and development activities.

The former bricklayer developed large areas of north Dublin, around the densely populated areas of Malahide, Portmarnock and Swords.

Currently living an expansive property in Howth, Co Dublin, with his wife and four children, the symbols of his achievement at the height of the boom included his chauffeur-driven Range Rover and a Bell 407 helicopter, which costs close to €1.5m new and a yacht.

Mr Gannon (57) went down in Celtic Tiger folklore as the developer who would travel in his chopper to survey the area below, spot a stretch of green land, touch down on it and decide to snap it up so he could expand his empire.

He received unwelcome publicity last year when he was named as a member of the so-called 'Anglo Golden Circle' -- a group of 10 businessmen who bought 10 per cent of Anglo Irish Bank in the summer of 2008 from billionaire Sean Quinn using funds supplied by the bank.

Sunday Independent