Bar owner denies ‘extraordinary’ transactions with wife to dodge loans

David Cullen, owner of the Turk’s Head Bar and Paramount Hotel in Dublin’s Temple Bar, has denied he engaged in “extraordinary” transactions with his wife Mary to avoid repaying €29m loans taken over by Nama.

There was “nothing sinister” in his entering into contracts between Sept 18 and 24, 2009, to transfer 40 properties to his wife when he was disputing Bank of Ireland’s claim he was in default on loans and those contracts, he said.

The contracts were discussed from Dec 2008 when his wife demanded he pay what he owed her, he insisted before the Commercial Court.

Mr Cullen agreed he walked out of a heated meeting with Bank of Ireland in Jun 2009 after threatening he would see it “in court before Peter Kelly” when the bank alleged default on his loans and sought extra security.

He denied he took active steps after that meeting to transfer properties to his wife and “simply didn’t care” about “heaping” up his debts to his wife to €10m because he wanted to avoid paying creditors.

He denied he leased his interest in the Paramount Hotel and Seafield Hotel, Co Wexford, in Dec 2011 to his brother Stephen for some €50,000 a year to frustrate creditors and give his brother “a bargain”.

He was “very distraught and overwhelmed” at the time, felt he had no option but to emigrate to the UK, and offered the leases with the “best intentions” to protect the 150 employees and keep the hotels open.

When it was suggested the leases, his €1.6m sale of his half of the Paramount Hotel to his wife, and the registering of a charge over the Seafield Hotel were done to adversely affect the bank’s security over those properties, he said the bank’s security was a matter for it and he had some unencumbered property in Temple Bar.

Mr Cullen was examined before Mr Justice Kelly at the Commercial Court yesterday by Aidan Redmond, for Nama, about his assets as part of efforts to enforce a €29m judgment obtained by Nama against him arising from unpaid Bank of Ireland loans.

He agreed he completed the sale of lands to his wife for €275,000 in Mar 1998, hours before she sold them on for what Mr Redmond described as an “extraordinary windfall” of €4.6m.

Mr Cullen said he borrowed about €5.9m from his wife during 1998 and 1999 and had repaid some €1.7m by 2009. He said his debt to her — including interest at high rates — was some €10m in Sept 2009 when he transferred properties to her to reduce it.

He had no explanation as to why he had no documents which mentioned any interest liability to his wife until after Aug 2009 but denied the interest liability was contrived.

He also had no explanation why he consented to judgment orders for €3.7m in favour of his wife in 2011, two months after he agreed his debt to her at that point was €2.2m.

When the judge remarked it seemed Mr Cullen’s wife was “doing you no favours”, Mr Cullen said that was the arrangement they had entered into.

He had never repaid capital on any loans taken out by him since he started in business 20 years ago, he said.

Lawyers for Mr Cullen had opposed the court examination on medical grounds but it proceeded yesterday after the judge said there was no evidence before him, in proper evidential form, concerning any medical condition.

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