Not 'frank or . . . wholly truthful' witness
Property investor Brian O’Donnell was not “a frank, or even a wholly truthful witness”, a High Court judge in London ruled as he rejected efforts by Mr O’Donnell and his wife Mary Patricia to declare bankruptcy in Britain.
The couple’s bid was contested during a two-week hearing in London earlier this month by the Bank of Ireland, which argued before Mr Justice Newey that the couple should be bankrupted in Ireland.
The argument centred on whether the O’Donnells, who claimed that they had moved their business interests to London from about 2007 qualified to file for bankruptcy in London when they lodged papers last March.
Dr Mary Patricia O’Donnell’s evidence about wanting to live in London, not in Ireland “carried conviction”, the judge said. “Given the extent of press interest in them in Ireland, I can understand why they would decide to live in London, where they are far less well-known.”
However, he ruled that “in all the circumstances” he did not believe that the transfer by the couple, who owe hundreds of millions to banks, could have been “sufficiently ascertainable by third parties”.
Dismissing the couple’s petitions, the judge said: “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 27 March of this year.”
He cited the ruling made by Mr Justice Deeny in the High Court in Belfast against Mr Seán Quinn, where the judge said a debtor “does not appear to be obliged to advertise his centre of main interest but nor may he hide it”.
“It is common ground that the O’Donnells’ COMI [centre of main interest] was in Ireland up to 2005. The O’Donnells contend that their COMI shifted to England at some point between March 2005 and August 2007, when 8 Barton Street was bought,” the judge said.
He added that he could not “regard Mr O’Donnell as a frank, or even a wholly truthful, witness”, and that a number of matters cast doubt on McDonnell’s credibility, including the covenant prohibiting the use of the couple’s London house as an office. In cross-examination, Mr O’Donnell had been “evasive”, claiming he could not say for certain whether he knew of the covenant and that he could not recall being told about it by the solicitors instructed on the purchase.
Equally, he had failed to reveal a consultancy fee of £120,000 a year for managing 17 Columbus Courtyard, the UK headquarters of Credit Suisse, and one of the properties he had bought in the past. “In cross-examination, Mr O’Donnell said that he misread the form or did not know how to answer the question correctly. I cannot regard either explanation as convincing, especially coming from an experienced solicitor,” the judge said.
Dealing with the couple’s collection of art and antiques, the judge said it had been valued at €7.5 million by Deloitte in 2005 and at €5 million a year later, though the O’Donnells valued it at just €150,000 last March.