Mystery surrounds the ownership of a Dublin 4 house sold last year by Sean and Gayle Dunne ahead of a hearing into plans to build four new homes on the grounds. Niall Murray reports.
Walford on Shrewsbury Road was the most expensive home in Ireland when it sold for €58m in 2005. But in a €14m deal last year, it was sold to Cypriot-registered Yesreb Holding Ltd whose owners remain a secret.
It has been suggested by some parties, who have appealed the decision of Dublin City Council to grant permission for the construction of more houses on the site, that the Dunnes may still have beneficial ownership of the property.
Yesreb Holding Ltd has its registered address at a PO Box in Limassol in Cyprus. It listed its director on the application to Dublin City Council in July 2013 as another company, named Totaltrust Management Limited, which is also registered in Cyprus.
A request for further information from Dublin City Council planning officials a year ago asked Yesreb Holding Ltd to “clarify the name(s) of company directors and to provide documentary evidence that the applicant has sufficient legal interest to carry out the proposed development”.
In a response last February, planning agents for Yesreb said the company — being Cypriot and not registered here — does not have the same requirements as an Irish company would under companies law.
“Under Cypriot company law, a company can be named as a director in another company,” it stated.
The council granted permission for the development in March, although requiring significant changes to the scheme for which the company had sought approval on the grounds of the existing three-storey arts-and-crafts design home, which has become dilapidated since its 2005 purchase.
But the question of ownership has again been raised in a number of appeals submitted to An Bord Pleanála against the council’s approval for the project. “Despite the assertion that the property has since been sold to a Cyprus-based holding company for a reported €14m, it remains unclear what relationship this company has to the previous owners,” planning consultants for Shrewsbury Road Residential and Environmental Protection Association wrote.
“Walford has placed the owners under considerable pressure to maximise the return upon investment, as demonstrated by the desire to develop the site at an intensity which is completely unjustifiable within the context of Shrewsbury Road,” the appeal states.
A range of planning matters raised in the five appeals, and by Yesreb itself in an appeal relating to some of the council’s conditions, prompted An Bord Pleanála to deem the case worthy of an oral hearing. It opened at the board’s offices last month, and was adjourned until October 7 on foot of a technical matter that arose early in proceedings, but was again rescheduled and is now pencilled in to proceed at the board’s offices today.
In his appeal, planning consultants for next-door neighbour Stephen Mackenzie and his family say the legal interest, name, and identity of the applicant were unstated in the application.
“...this omission goes to the heart of public transparency, confidence, and trust in the planning process,” the planning consultants wrote.
Calling for the oral hearing, they said it would allow an opportunity for the beneficial owner of the site to be called to give evidence and be cross-examined. They submitted that planning regulations include a mandatory requirement to state the name of the directors, and that they afford no discretion for differences in Cypriot company law.
“We respectfully submit that the failure to do so implies an attempt to hide behind the corporate veil of secrecy and this is fundamentally at variance with the spirit of the planning legislation and its implementation,” they wrote.
“Our client is of the opinion that Sean Dunne is the true beneficial owner of the property from various communications with Mr Dunne on many occasions over the years.... A shelf company in Cyprus does not instil public confidence in the ability of the planning authority to enforce its decision.”
The applicant company’s own appeal related only to the conditions proposed by the council, which Yesreb wants the board to amend or remove from any decision to grant permission.
The Yesreb response to city planners also included a copy of the memorial of deed of conveyance, showing the transfer of the property to Yesreb on March 29, 2013. But the detail of the vendor who transferred it was deleted by Yesreb from the copy filed with the council.
According to the Property Registration Authority of Ireland, the names of those grantors on the registry of deeds are: Caroline Crowley, Eamon Walsh, Sean Dunne, Gayle Dunne, and Matsack Nominees Ltd, the company which had bought Walford for €58m in 2005. The grantors listed on a deed of conveyance may be vendors, leasees, or mortgagees.
It was only in February of this year that Mr Dunne confirmed the couple’s long-speculated link to the property. He told a hearing as part of bankruptcy proceedings in New York that he gave his wife the money which was used to buy the house.
They reportedly never lived there, and it was the subject of a number of unsuccessful or withdrawn applications for development before the current application was submitted.
A 2006 application did not name the directors of applicant firm Matsack Nominees, a business and management consultancy registered at a Dublin city centre address, which had 12 directors, according to its most recent filings.
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