Thomas Byrne: ‘I thought I was going to be killed’
Former solicitor tells court of being brought into a walk-in freezer and given €10,000 and a hug
Former solicitor Thomas Byrne (47) arriving at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court today to give evidence in his own trial. Photograph: Collins Courts
Former solicitor Thomas Byrne feared he was “going to be killed” in the days before his Dublin practice was closed down in 2007.
Giving evidence at his trial this morning, Mr Byrne said that when he learned that a colleague was going to report him to the Law Society, he agreed to meet a woman at a Centra in Rathmines.
There, she brought him into a walk-in freezer at the back of the shop. “I thought I was going to be killed. I really did,” he told the court.
Instead, the woman - a relative of a business associate - handed Mr Byrne €10,000 in cash and gave him a hug. He said he then took a ferry to Holyhead and drove to London.
Mr Byrne (47), of Walkinstown Road, Crumlin, Dublin, is accused of theft and fraud offences totalling €51.8 million. The charges allege he transferred clients’ homes into his name and then used them as collateral for property loans.
He has pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 50 counts of theft, forgery, using forged documents and deception between 2004 and 2007.
Mr Byrne told he court he was “terrified” about what could happen to him, but he was in court “to face the music”.
Mr Byrne said he had to acquire properties and borrow large amounts of money because he was under pressure to make payments of up to €450,000 per week into an account belonging to a client and business associate, John Kelly.
Mr Kelly did not have an income of his own, and “essentially groomed” Mr Byrne to borrow on his behalf.
Mr Byrne said the financial pressure Mr Kelly put on him were “so vast” that he started drinking heavily, took tablets and “had to see psychiatric people”.
“I started to become afraid of him,” Mr Byrne said. “He indicated his brother was involved with people up the north, as he put it. He was quite aggressive.”
“He would come into the office and say he needed this much money today or tomorrow.”
Mr Byrne said the banks “absolutely loved” Mr Kelly, but he could not fulfill their criteria for lending as he did not have an income or tax clearance certificates.
“I was the perfect candidate for him to introduce to the banks,” he said.
The former solicitor said Mr Kelly organised a number of social events. Former minister for justice Michael McDowell attended one, as did former tanaiste Mary Harney. Mr Byrne said he was asked to make a donation to the Labour Party.
“Mr Kelly made it his business to appear to be a mover and shaker in the Irish economy. For a period of time, he succeeded in creating that impression,” Mr Byrne told the court.
The prosecution finished its case yesterday after 16 days of evidence.
The final prosecution witness was Det Sgt Paschal Walsh who headed the investigation into Mr Byrne after the Law Society shut down his practice in October 2007.
Det Sgt Walsh agreed with Damian Colgan SC, defending, that he also investigated Mr Byrne’s business partner and property developer, John Kelly.
Det Sgt Walsh said the “vast majority” of the criminal complaints were against Mr Byrne but that two complaints were against Mr Kelly.
He confirmed that Mr Kelly was not before the courts on any charges.
Det Sgt Walsh said the files showed Mr Byrne’s practice had 900 client accounts, 97 of which were in the name of Mr Kelly.
The trial continues before Judge Patrick McCartan and a jury of seven men and five women.