McDowell spoke at Byrne Christmas party, trial told

The then minister for justice Michael McDowell was a guest speaker at Thomas Byrne’s Christmas Party in the Four Seasons, the trial of the former solicitor has heard.

The trial also heard how Mr Byrne was introduced to former Irish Nationwide Building Society chief executive Michael Fingleton in Croke Park before the finalisation of a €4.5m loan.

Mr Byrne, aged 47, of Walkinstown Road, Crumlin is accused of theft and fraud offences totalling €51.8m. The charges allege he transferred his clients’ homes into his name and then used them as collateral for property loans.

He has pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 51 counts of theft, forgery, using forged documents and deception between 2004 and 2007.

A former manager of the Dundrum branch of Irish Nationwide Building Society detailed how Mr Byrne borrowed a total of €11.4m from the society in 2006 and 2007.

Branch manager Colin Walsh said he met Mr Byrne in 2005 and that he attended a Christmas Party in the Four Seasons. He also said he would have been in his Lad Lane apartment socially.

Mr Walsh said Mr Byrne’s third loan application for €4.5m required the approval of Irish Nationwide chief Michael Fingleton because of its size.

The witness said he introduced Mr Byrne to Mr Fingleton in Croke Park and that the loan was later granted.

The former internal auditor with Irish Nationwide, Killian McMahon, told the court via video link that many of the properties used as security by Mr Byrne were worthless to the society as it emerged it did not have “first legal charge” over them.

The society granted a €4.8m loan to Mr Byrne in 2006 based on nine properties being offered as security. Mr McMahon said it later transpired that none of these were valid collateral.

The court heard that on Oct 15, 2007, Irish Nationwide sent out letters to client’s solicitors asking them to provide proof of ownership of their homes.

He said that Mr Byrne responded to Mr Walsh by asking if there was a “witch-hunt” in progress.

Mr Walsh said he responded that if the accused turned in the title deeds “all would be solved”.

He said when Mr Byrne failed to provide proof of ownership he called to the solicitor’s office but no one was there. He then called to his home on Lad Lane and “saw that the whole apartment was emptied out”.

The trial continues.

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