€9m loan on already mortgaged properties

LEGAL title of a number of residential homes with which a Dublin solicitor had dealings appears to be cast in doubt, the High Court heard yesterday.

The whereabouts of the solicitor, Thomas A Byrne, are unknown, the court was told.

Mr Byrne’s practice at Walkinstown Road, Dublin 12 was closed this week by the Law Society, his accounts have been frozen and he is restrained by court order from reducing his assets below €9 million.

Mr Byrne had been informed by the Law Society on October 19 that it would be carrying out an audit of his practice last Monday and he had failed to turn up at his office that day, the court also heard.

In affidavits to the court, IIB expressed concerns that a loan of €9m paid by IIB to Mr Byrne was secured on properties which in fact were the subject of a prior mortgage with other banks — Bank of Scotland Ireland, which was represented in court yesterday, ICS Building Society, Anglo Irish Bank, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank Ltd.

It also said it had concerns about title documents to some properties, and particular concerns relating to a house in Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 and a house in Clondalkin, both residential properties.

The loan was secured on 16 residential properties located in Ballsbridge, Dublin 4; Walkinstown, Dublin 12; Crumlin, Dublin 12; Clondalkin, Dublin 22; Balrothery, Co Dublin; Skerries, Co Dublin; and Co Carlow. It was also secured on non-residential properties in Saggart, Co Dublin; Crumlin and Ballymount.

Mr Byrne failed to turn up in court and was not legally represented.

IIB has expressed concern that, given Mr Byrne’s conduct to date, the €9m loaned appeared to have been fraudulently obtained. The bank expressed concern that, given his conduct to date, Mr Byrne will dissipate “whatever assets are in his name which appear to be his own” with a view “to defrauding” the bank.

Last Monday, IIB secured an interim order against Mr Byrne retraining him from reducing his assets below €9m and also freezing bank accounts in his name.

A notice from the Law Society on the door of the solicitor’s offices in Walkinstown on Monday stated the practice was closed. Mr Byrne also has an office in Sandyford Industrial Estate.

The Law Society on Tuesday initiated proceedings against Mr Byrne, also on an ex parte basis.

Mr Byrne was found guilty of misconduct by the Law Society in December 2006 for allowing a deficit of €1,696,969 on the client account as of May 31 2005 and for allowing personal transactions of his own to be drawn from the client bank account. He was censured and ordered to pay €15,000 to the Society’s Compensation Fund — the maximum amount which may be imposed.

When the IIB proceedings against Mr Byrne came before Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, Mr Byrne’s name was called but he was not present.

Mr Michael Cush SC, with Mr Brian Kennedy, for IIB, said unsuccessful attempts had been made to serve Mr Byrne with the legal proceedings at his offices and his home — at Lad Lane, Baggot Street, Dublin 2.

Mr Cush said, while he was not asking the court at this stage to deem service good, the court could continue the freezing orders. Counsel said he was also seeking an order directing NIB to make discovery of all accounts held by Mr Byrne or associated with him, particularly at the NIB branch in Walkinstown. He said NIB had said it would abide by any court order.

IIB’s concern was relating to the €9m monies which might be in the NIB accounts, counsel said. There might be a further court application if, for example, the monies had been moved. The €9m cheque to Mr Byrne had been cleared through NIB on September 10.

Mr Cush said the Law Society had been in touch with IIB about how service of legal documents could be effected on Mr Byrne.

The society was unaware of Mr Byrne’s home address, counsel said. “We seemed to know more.”

Ms Caroline Costello BL, for Bank of Scotland, said her client had several mortgages with the defendant in his own right and with him and others. Her client was concerned about the security of those and its priority.

Ms Justice Laffoy said she would direct NIB to make discovery by next Tuesday, but NIB had liberty to apply for extra time if necessary. She also continued to Tuesday next the freezing order and the order restraining Mr Byrne reducing his assets below €9m.

Directing that IIB should advertise the legal proceedings in the Irish Times and Irish Independent on Friday, the judge said she was concerned about continuing the freezing orders indefinitely in absence of Mr Byrne being served.

She also returned the proceedings to Tuesday.

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