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Are O'Donnells 'Alice in Wonderland'? asks judge

HE says he and his wife are 'honest people' at their wits end trying to help the bank.

A judge wonders if they're 'in Alice In Wonderland'.

And a bank claims it's being kept in the dark about the assets of a golden couple who once headed a €1bn property empire.

The complex financial affairs of solicitor Brian O'Donnell and his wife Dr Mary Patricia O'Donnell are now being teased out in court, four months after a bank got a judgment of €71.5m against them and just weeks after it emerged the couple planned to file for bankruptcy in London.

The couple's property holdings once included the most prestigious addresses in Washington and London, not to mention their sprawling luxury home on Vico Road.

Washington

But now Mr O'Donnell says he's insolvent.

At the opening of the court hearing, Mr O'Donnell disagreed with High Court judge Peter Kelly's suggestion that an "umbrella" entity under which various multi-million investments were made by himself and his wife appeared "very shadowy indeed".

Mr Justice Kelly made the remark during the examination of the solicitor as part of Bank of Ireland's attempts to recover some €75m related to property loans.

Mr O'Donnell insisted they were "honest people" at their "wits end" having tried over four years to engage with the bank.

The O'Donnells filed for bankruptcy in London on March 23, just hours before BOI applied for orders to question them in the Commercial Court here over "alarming" discrepancies in statements about their assets.

Mr Justice Kelly had directed the couple to attend for examination yesterday about their assets.

BOI brought proceedings last year for summary judgment orders against the couple, with an address at Gorse Hill, Vico Road, Killiney, over loans.

Under a March 2011 settlement, the couple agreed to make payments totalling €28.5m by November last.

When those were not made, the bank secured summary judgment for about €71.5m against the couple. That sum has risen to more than €75m.

The bank claims, in their first statement, the couple claimed part or full ownership of a significant international property portfolio, including a property at Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, sold in March 2011 for $155m (¤118m).

The bank says another statement directly contradicted the first one and indicated Westferry Circus and Columbus Courtyard properties were beneficially owned by their son Blake and a Barton Street property was beneficially owned their children.

Asked yesterday about an entity called Vico Capital, Mr O'Donnell said it never traded and he and his wife regarded it as the trading name under which people knew them.

When the judge suggested Mr O'Donnell might regard this as "all very shadowy indeed", Mr O'Donnell said it was not shadowy.

When the judge suggested the initial statement gave a "skewed and inaccurate picture", Mr O'Donnell said he had nothing to hide.

Mr O'Donnell, the judge noted, had said the statement was prepared by his brother-in-law, a chartered accountant, on his instructions.

"Unless we are in Alice in Wonderland, net worth means what net worth is," the judge added.

The hearing continues.

hnews@herald.ie


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