‘Evasive’ O’Donnell fails in UK bankruptcy attempt
Bank of Ireland will press for property investors Brian and Mary Patricia O’Donnell to be made bankrupt in Ireland next month following the decision yesterday by the High Court in London to reject their bid to declare bankruptcy there.
Rejecting the O’Donnells’ petitions, Mr Justice Newey said he found that Mr O’Donnell had not been “frank, or even a wholly truthful witness” during his evidence in the two-week hearing earlier this month.
Doubt had been cast on his credibility because of his failure to reveal that he earns a £120,000-a-year consultancy fee for managing an office block in London, which had been bought at the height of the success of his property empire, while he had been “evasive” on other issues.
In addition, Mr O’Donnell had claimed all of the couple’s creditors – not just Bank of Ireland and AIB – had been told about their move to London late last year to a house bought in Westminster in London in 2007 for £13 million.
Denial ‘not plausible’
“I cannot accept this. Had it been the truth, the O’Donnells would have copies of the letters and would have exhibited them,” said the judge, while Mr O’Donnell’s denial that he had applied for a renewal of his Irish solicitor’s practising licence was not “plausible”.
The couple were refused permission to appeal, though it is open to them to petition the Court of Appeal in London to hear a case.
Mr Justice Newey also refused to put a stay on his order pending any such action by the O’Donnells.
Bank of Ireland’s creditor bankruptcy petitions against the couple – lodged last May and June respectively, but adjourned pending the outcome of the London case – are scheduled to be heard by the High Court in Dublin on January 21st.
The O’Donnells applied for bankruptcy in London last March. The chief bankruptcy registrar of the High Court in London, Stephen Baister, sought evidence from them that their centre of main interest lay in London and ordered that creditors should be informed.
Bank of Ireland objected, rejecting the O’Donnells’ argument that their business interests had been run from London from 2007 onwards, or before, as they claimed, and saying that they should be bankrupted in Ireland.
Main centre of interest
In his ruling, Mr Justice Newey declared: “In all the circumstances, I do not think that the [centre of main interest] for which the O’Donnells contend was sufficiently ascertainable by third parties.”
Dismissing the petitions, he went on: “To the contrary, it seems to me that an objective observer would have taken the O’Donnells’ [centre of main interest] to be in Ireland as at March 27th of this year.”
Noting Mr O’Donnell’s evidence that he and his wife had felt “really hounded” in Ireland, Mr Justice Newey accepted that the London move is permanent, but this did not mean that the transfer was “apparent” to creditors.
If bankrupted in Ireland, the O’Donnells could be subjected to restrictions for 12 years, since legislation reducing that figure has yet to come into law, though it has passed through the Oireachtas.
In the UK, they could have been discharged after a year, if they co-operated fully with bankruptcy trustees.
Bank of Ireland’s four witnesses, led by Des Hanrahan, had been “truthful and reliable”, the judge found, even if Mr Hanrahan had “a tendency to argue the case rather than to confine himself to matters of which he had personal knowledge”.