Three more MEPs join calls for release of Irish businessman being held without charge in China

Aviation executive Richard O'Halloran with his wife Tara

Sarah Collins

The EU is joining calls for China to release an Irish businessman who is being held in the country without charge.

Aviation executive Richard O’Halloran has been prevented from leaving China for almost two years after going there to help solve a dispute involving his company chairman.

Now three MEPs have written to the Chinese ambassador to the EU, Zhang Ming, to raise their concerns and ask that Mr O’Halloran be allowed to return to Ireland.

“For two years, Mr O'Halloran has been held against his will in China and his mental and physical health has taken a heavy toll,” said the letter, dated February 9.

"It was reported that he was hospitalised twice because his heart stopped beating. His family, his wife and four children, who have not seen their husband and father for more than two years, are very worried and fear for his life.

“Your Excellency, we hope that you understand our concern for the situation of Mr O’Halloran.

“Therefore, we ask you to raise our concerns with the relevant authorities in China and help secure Mr O’Halloran’s release so that he has the chance to reunite with his family in the new spring.”

The letter is signed by German Green MEP Reinhard Bütikofer, the head of the European Parliament’s China delegation, Greek MEP Maria Spyraki, who sits in the same centre-right group as Fine Gael, and German socialist Evelyne Gebhardt.

It’s the first public intervention in the case by EU lawmakers, who mentioned Mr O’Halloran’s situation in a resolution China adopted last month.

The letter was spearheaded by Fine Gael MEP Frances Fitzgerald, who wrote to the Chinese ambassador herself last week to ask for Mr O’Halloran’s release.

It’s a sensitive time for the case. Mr O’Halloran, a director of the Dublin-based China International Aviation Leasing Service (CALS), travelled to Shanghai in March 2019 following the arrest of his company’s chairman, Min Jiedong, on fraud charges.

He was not a director of the company when the events under investigation occurred, and Mr Min has since been jailed.

The Sunday Independent reported last month that Shanghai police are demanding a $36m (around €30m) payment from Mr O’Halloran before he can return home.

The acting directors of CALS sent $200,000 (€165,000) to the Chinese court in a good-faith gesture, but it led to further interrogation of the Foxrock father-of-four, the paper said.

Then, after being told in January that his exit ban was lifted, he was turned away from his flight.

Fianna Fáil MEP Barry Andrews has also been involved in bringing the case to the EU’s attention, and said the timing of the bloc’s recent trade deal with China was “surprising” given Mr O’Halloran’s situation.

Ms Fitzgerald raised the trade deal in a letter she sent to MEPs last week.

“Given the recent EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment and given the general increase in economic co-operation between the EU and China, it should be a major source of concern that an EU citizen can be effectively detained against their will for such a period,” she said in her letter, dated February 5.