O'Donnells challenged on residency claim
Property investor Brian O’Donnell said Ireland “holds nothing” for him, during his London High Court battle to file for bankruptcy in the UK.
The solicitor said he and his wife, Mary Pat O’Donnell, were so sure their “residence, futures and lives” lay in London that they had even bought a burial plot there.
But despite claiming he planned to live the rest of his life in the UK, Mr O’Donnell conceded he had never paid tax there.
The couple, who once owned €1 billion worth of luxury properties around the world, have been accused of being “bankruptcy tourists” over their bid to file for bankruptcy in the UK rather than in Ireland.
Under Irish law, bankruptcy can take up to 12 years to be discharged while in the UK it takes a year.
Lawyers for Bank of Ireland, which is suing the couple for €75 million of debts, object to the O’Donnells’ filing in London. But giving evidence yesterday, Mr O’Donnell told the court he would never return to Ireland and planned to stay in London and write about his experiences of business.
“Ireland holds nothing for us. The experience in Ireland is very bad. The economy is in a terrible state. Banking is very bad. The national debt to GDP is worse than Greece,” he said.
Business book planned
“We have decided that our residence and our futures and our lives are going to be in London, so much so that we have bought a grave here in London.”
He added: “We want to see if we can make a life for ourselves after bankruptcy. I intend to write a book of my business experience.
“I have no intention of going back to Dublin and nobody can compel me to live in a place I don’t want to live.”
Gabriel Moss, for the Bank of Ireland, asked why Mr O’Donnell had not paid tax in the UK before filing for bankruptcy there if it was his main centre of business.
Asked why he had failed to register with HMRC, Mr O’Donnell said he “did not think it was necessary”. Asked if he had registered as a domicile, or even a non-domicile, he replied: “No, I don’t think so.”
Mr Moss said: “In previous years you’d always made sure you didn’t stay here long enough to be considered domicile. All your tax returns were in Ireland.”
But Mr O’Donnell denied a “series of moves” – including the purchase of a grave and a recent application for a national insurance number – in order to “protect his assets”. He said: “As I have said previously, my affairs are complicated.”
He was also pressed on the alleged transfer of ownership of three properties worth an estimated €360 million to his four adult children Blake, Bruce, Blaise and Alexandra.
The case rests on whether the O’Donnells can prove their centre of main interest is the UK.
Their barrister told the court earlier this week they had been resident in the UK for seven years.
Bank of Ireland’s barrister rejected this, saying the bank “had been mucked about in an outrageous way”.
Ms O’Donnell is expected to give evidence next week even though she had argued during private legal discussions in recent months that she was medically unfit.
The court has heard the couple had found it “incredibly difficult” to fund legal fees.