Businesswoman claims €4.2m ‘misappropriated’

A British-based businesswoman whose family put £3.3m (€4.2m) into an Irish-based frozen yoghurt business has claimed the monies invested have been misappropriated by a co-director.

Yelene Aust, from Oxford, claims the monies she, her father and brother, invested in the business and related companies has been improperly used by Clonmel-based businessman Michael English, to purchase assets in his own name and in the name of other firms he controls.

A sworn statement to the High Court claims money in the businesses is missing and company money was used by Mr English to purchase assets, including a villa in Portugal.

Barrister Robert Beatty, for Ms Aust, told the court his client believes she has been wrongly deprived of her monies by Mr English, and there is “clear evidence of deception and fraud”.

Ms Aust has secured a temporary High Court order to freeze the assets of both Mr English, of Twomile Bridge, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, and several companies of which both she and Mr English are directors and shareholders.

The companies, which she alleges Mr English controls, are My Frozen Yogurt Ltd, Yogen Fruz Ireland Ltd, Thriving Brands Ltd and My Culture Sands Ltd. She sought the freezing orders over fears any remaining value in the companies may be dissipated.

Mr Justice Paul McDermott granted her temporary injunction freezing the assets and preventing Mr English from reducing, moving or dissipating their assets below a value of £2.4m.

The defendant must also provide Ms Aust with a list containing details of all their assets and bank accounts in the State.

The judge said he was satisfied, based on the serious allegations, to grant the freezing order. The injunction was granted on an ex-parte basis (where only one side was represented in court).

Mr Beatty said Ms Aust first met Mr English through a mutual acquaintance in 2010.

Counsel said she decided to invest £600,000, by way of a loan, in Mr English’s frozen yoghurt business — My Frozen Yogurt Ltd. The plan was to mix frozen yoghurt bars with frozen fruit. It was to be manufactured at a factory in Clonmel and sold all over Europe.

Ms Aust became a shareholder and director of the company. Her father invested £2m and her brother invested £400,000 in the venture. She said Mr English was also to invest £600,000, but did not do so.

Counsel said his client, who did some work for but had no day-to-day involvement with the companies, became suspicious in late 2013/early 2014.

While she has not been able to get all the relevant documentation concerning the companies, she fears some or all the companies may be insolvent. She also fears her family will not get their investments back.

Counsel said by using monies invested in the business by Ms Aust’s family, Mr English has “effected an enormous amount of personal and luxury expenditure since 2010”.

Counsel that in 2012, Michael English and his wife Danielle acquired an interest in a Portuguese villa with company money. There was no mention anywhere in company records of the purchase of the villa and she says the purchase amounts to a fraud.

When Ms Aust discovered this alleged deception, Mr English agreed to sell the property. She said he claimed the purchase was for the protection of company money.

She also discovered land was bought in Tipperary where the factory to manufacture the frozen yoghurt was to be built. The €320,000 was spent by the company on land previously owned by Mr English.

She had originally been led to believe the land was to be purchased from an unrelated party, and the plant has not been constructed.

She also claims that investment money was used, without her knowledge to purchase the Ocean Hotel in Co Waterford from a receiver. She believes the €290,000 used to buy the property was financed by the fraudulent use of monies from one or more of the companies.

Part of that property was sold to another party, also without her knowledge for €95,000. She is not aware where those funds have gone, counsel said.

She also claims her signature was forged on a number of documents, including financial statements.

The judge made the matter returnable to a date next week.

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