THROUGHOUT the summer at least 2,000 people, many of them involved in businesses during the boom, made a last-ditch attempt to remain in control of their debt-laden properties. They did so by putting their faith in a mysterious property trust that it was claimed had found a way to split mortgages from properties themselves.
The trust, which ascribed to a quest for divine consciousness, said its secret would remain on a need-to-know basis and said those with doubts should stay out.
Even on those terms people paid up, signed in, and were told that when the time was right, the Rodolphus Allen trust would unveil its secret in court and strike down the mortgages.
People may be left with the debt but that could be dealt with through bankruptcy and the properties would be waiting intact at the other end.
The trust and its organiser, Charles Allen sr of Prior Park, Inistioge, Co Kilkenny, have still to fulfil their commitment to reveal their lucrative loophole.
There have been opportunities, but instead, Mr Allen has decided to take shelter in the North, where a bench warrant for his arrest cannot be enforced.
At his new base on Friday, he did business with another 100 people. Ahead of the event he was stopped and asked to explain when he would return to the South to fight his case. He said it was nobody’s business.
Although it appears insignificant against the scale of the €2bn of debts involved, a lot has been invested in the belief that the trust has something to offer.
By the trust’s own estimates, more than 2,000 people have signed up. On that basis it stood to earn the equivalent of at least €500,000 this year. That is assuming each person only put in one folio at the initial €250-per-property administration fee. Prices have increased recently as publicity made it harder for the trust to operate.
The timing of the trust’s growth provided it with legitimate cover. The courts were not sitting for routine hearings during the summer.
Participants were assured when the trust was summoned it would go into court and blow the legal basis for mortgages in this country apart. It said it would not go in itself but would wait to be called.
The initial summons served on Mr Allen, and the seasonal return to regular court sittings, has offered the trust a platform to prove its case. But Mr Allen has not turned up in court. Instead a bench warrant has been issued for his arrest and he has evaded it by moving across the border to Newry.
A legal argument has not been put forward so banks and receivers have largely ignored the increasing volume of correspondence coming from the trust making demands for rent and damages.
In Monaghan late last month, prospective buyers of houses in a virtually completed estate at Annyalla were warned with fliers not to buy the properties as they were in the trust. But the auctioneer handling the sale said having taken advice it did not give credence to the trust’s claims.
Contracts were exchanged last week. Without a legal challenge, the sales are going ahead at the firesale prices put up by the receivers, Farrell Grant Sparks.
The trust participant list and income stream has grown quickly. First they came to Carlow to sign in. Information meetings were held at Mount Juliet in Kilkenny and word spread among those in similar predicaments.
The first big move was made at the Clarion Hotel in Cork City when a number of developers and businessmen, including Bill Cullen, vested their assets in the Allen trust.
Further events were held in Youghal and Mitchelstown as the trust made use of a Cork-based notary public to witness the signings in and to confirm people had made their decision without duress.
The trust came to public attention in this newspaper, at which time it was estimated 600 people had put properties in.
At that stage, requests were made of Mr Allen to explain what his legal strategy was based on, particularly in light of subsequent comments by senator Thomas Byrne which suggested the trust had all the hallmarks of a scam.
Despite the comments in the Seanad, the trust continued to hold weekly signing-in sessions, charging people between €250 and €350 per folio.
Developers had to sign over 10% of their properties to Mr Allen directly in lieu of payment. Receivers and auctioneers were put on notice but at the first possible test, a High Court hearing over a pub in Longford, the trust did not show.
Doubts were raised and in August it made amends with a show of force that saw it oust receivers from a stud farm in Kildare.
Mr Allen said the move represented “middle Ireland” fighting back. YouTube footage has emerged showing Mr Allen leading a cross-country motorcade and breaking through farm gates with a consaw.
The scene attracted attention and allies but that worried some people. The trust had sold itself on the premise that it had found a legal loophole and not what a High Court judge would later describe as “mob rule”.
The spectre of a mob mentality saw the notary public in Cork, Dermot Conway, stop providing his services.
The trust was forced to move to Wicklow just as the receivers of the Kennycourt stud went into court to seek an injunction preventing Mr Allen, aspiring politician Ben Gilroy, and the farmer himself, Eugene McDermott, from interfering with their work.
This bid was held up as Mr Allen could not be found. He was eventually tracked down and word was circulated that, once summoned, he would attend court to lay his trump card in front of a judge.
But this did not happen.
On the day he was supposed to attend court, the Irish Examiner contacted a hotel in Dundalk and spoke to his associates.
One of them said there was an information meeting being held — although it is known a number of people were told to bring money to sign properties in before it closed its books for good.
In the meantime, the trust had brought over a barrister from England, Rolyn Seeboruth. He originally worked in Mauritius and does not appear to have had a high profile in London.
Previously, he did advise on the unsuccessful defamation defence put up by the Rate my Solicitor website.
The Irish Examiner spoke to Mr Seeboruth while he was in Ireland but still no explanation of its legal strategy was forthcoming.
Then, a bench warrant was issued for Mr Allen’s arrest, even though the stud farm in Kildare had been surrendered back to the receivers.
As that happened, hundreds of letters started landing with receivers, auctioneers, and banks warning them to vacate trust properties or face more than €100m in damages.
People who were in the trust were advised to stop paying loan installments to the banks and the trust was now in control.
At the time, the trust was contacted by the Irish Examiner but it refused to elaborate on what was happening or how its demands would be enforced.
It appeared to have closed itself to new members.
That changed last week when a notice was circulated to advise those who had not joined in time that another signing-in session would be held in Newry.
The location undermined previous assertions that the signings-in had to be held in this jurisdiction with an Irish notary public.
On the flip side, the bench warrant could not be acted upon by the PSNI so in the Canal Court Hotel, Mr Allen was safe from arrest.
In the hotel it is understood up to 100 people had crossed the border to sign in properties at approximately €400 per folio.
When he was approached, Mr Allen, wearing his identifiable woollen waistcoat, said he owed nobody an explanation let alone this “sad little newspaper”.
He would not say when he would return to make the legal play which he has promised people was imminent.
He did not respond to questions about the Sunday Times’ report that the Revenue Commissioners wanted details of what he earned this summer.
He blamed this newspaper for raising doubts about his trust. But similar questions have been asked by the Mail on Sunday, The Phoenix, the Irish Independent, and RTÉ’s This Week.
When confronted with further questions, he said Newry was not southern Ireland, where the warrant existed, and he had hotel staff escort the press off the property.
He said the confrontation was the work of “assholes from the gutter press”.
For the rest of the day, he could be seen through a window in a small business suite accepting people’s properties into his trust.
It is not known if he will hold another signing in session or how long he will remain outside the reach of the warrants officer at his local Garda station in Thomastown, Co Kilkenny.
But as the time runs out on people’s own battles with the banks, more than 2,000 people are anxiously waiting to see will Mr Allen return to this country to try and spell out his magic strategy.
Will he justify the faith and money which people have invested in him?
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