Developer Seán Dunne has failed to overturn his Irish bankruptcy but will apply on Monday to recover property seized by the official assignee in bankruptcy from a luxury house in Co Kildare, the ownership of which was described by a High Court judge as “somewhat vague”.
Mr Justice Brian McGovern dismissed Mr Dunne’s bid to set aside his Irish bankruptcy, meaning a dual bankruptcy process concerning the 59-year-old businessman will proceed both here and in the US.
In rejecting claims Mr Dunne was domiciled outside Ireland since 2007, the judge said he had regard to material, including an email from Gayle Dunne of Dec 2010 to Sotheby’s International Realty, stating her husband “spends far more time in Ireland than the US and has 200 employees and 3 hotels in Dublin, it is unbelievable they are describing him as a refugee who ‘left Ireland’.”
The email added: “trying to get him to spend time in the US is proving difficult”.
The judge also had particular regard to an “unambiguous” email by Mr Dunne to Ulster Bank in Nov 2010, stating: “My domicile is Ireland.” Mr Dunne had not sought to resile from, clarify or explain that statement, he added.
In that same email, Mr Dunne said it was “not a secret that I like every other property developer is seeking work and development opportunities outside of Ireland” and was “seeking to interest funds in investing in some of our developments in Ireland which is a challenging process”.
The Irish bankruptcy proceedings were initiated by Ulster Bank last February over default on loans for €161m issued to buy properties in Dublin. Mr Dunne filed for bankruptcy in the US the following month when he claimed to have debts of $1bn (€730m) and assets of $55m. In Jul 2013, the High Court adjudicated him bankrupt here.
The US court-appointed trustee managing Mr Dunne’s US bankruptcy later granted an application by Ulster Bank allowing parallel proceedings on grounds, including they would benefit Mr Dunne’s creditors as the vast majority of his properties are in Ireland.
Mr Dunne has personal property of about €14m located outside the US, Mr Justice McGovern noted in his judgment yesterday, dismissing on all grounds the businessman’s bid, opposed by Ulster Bank and Nama, to set aside his Irish bankruptcy.
On the issue of domicile, the judge said the relevant period was the three years before the Ulster Bank petition was presented last February. While Mr Dunne claimed he had since 2007 lived in Paris, London, Geneva, and the US, the emails and other material indicated he was domiciled in Ireland within the three years before presentation of the petition, the judge found.
The judge noted Mr Dunne is the registered owner of Ouragh, Shrewsbury Rd, Dublin 4, now leased to the South African government. Ulster Bank also alleged Mr Dunne has an interest in, or use of, a property at the K Club and referred to newspaper articles referring to Mr Dunne as owner of that property, which Mr Dunne denied. The evidence on the issue of ownership of the K Club property was “inconclusive” and “somewhat vague“, the judge found.
On Monday, Mr Dunne and others will apply to recover documents and other material, believed to include a number of paintings, seized last week from the house at the K Club.