Irish siblings at war over €300m inheritance

Hugh Green often visited his native Donegal from his home in New Zealand. Picture Brian McDaid

The family of an Irishman are at war in New Zealand over his €300m business empire.

Hugh Green was penniless when he left Co Donegal in 1951 in the age of 19, but built a huge property and construction business before he died in July, 2012 aged 80.

However, now his family is at war over the cash he left behind.

His son John, 58, and daughter Frances, 52, are now at loggerheads with their sister Maryanne, 55, who claims her dad was not of sound mind when he made his will.

Shortly before his death, changes were made to the governance of the trusts and companies, with John and Frances appointed as directors and trustees of the various bodies, while Maryanne ended her trustee and director roles.

John and Frances were appointed executors of a new will for Hugh Green that was signed in April 2012, three months before he died.

Maryanne is challenging the validity of the new will claiming her late father had diminished capacity because of his health problems.

In the Auckland High Court, she claimed that, before his death, he could barely button his shirt, dozed off and on one occasion in a restaurant, went over to greet a couple he did not know at all.

In a courtroom battle, she alleges that her dad was improperly influenced by John and Auckland barrister Michael Fisher, who has been appointed to various directorial and trustee roles in the Green business empire.

The courtroom stand-off would undoubtedly have angered the multi-millionaire modern-day Robin Hood, who gave much of his money away to charitable causes, including many in Ireland.

He had always kept his business affairs private and insisted that the family should stick together.

In 2011, the Letterkenny-born philanthropist gave a donation of €200,000 to Letterkenny General Hospital to have a training academy built there. The following year, in January 2012, he was named joint Donegal Person of the Year.

Hugh Green was honoured for his contribution to New Zealand society with a papal knighthood and also received an honorary degree from University College Galway.

In latter years, Hugh Green would often return to Donegal to spend several weeks there in the summer months and never displayed the trappings of his huge wealth.

He drove an old jeep and would often get his wife Moira to darn his socks and mend his clothes.

Maryanne’s lawyer, Vanessa Bruton, said Maryanne had attempted to find a workable solution to her longstanding personal differences with John. “The trustees have not acted properly by refusing her many attempts to get around the table and sort matters out without recourse to the courts,” said Ms Bruton.

Ms Bruton said Mary-anne had left her previous job to work for the family business in 1987, while John started working part-time for the business in 1989.

John denies Maryanne’s claims that her father’s mental health had failed. The last time Maryanne saw her dad alive was on July 11, 2012. She says in her affidavit that she noticed her photograph in his bedroom was completely covered with an Irish flag.

Two months after the funeral, she was formally removed as director of the remaining companies.

Judge Helen Winkleman will now hear closing arguments in the case next month before making her decision.


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