A US lending agent is entitled to a judgment of $159.8 million (€146.4 million) against the Swiss-Lebanese owner of a Co Kerry hotel and islands, the High Court has ruled.
Ms Justice Eileen Roberts said the sum reflected the amount MGG California LLC obtained as judgment against Jacob E Safra from the New York supreme court, less credit for sums already secured.
Mr Safra, who is also known as Jacqui Safra, resides for periods on his private Garinish Island off Kenmare Bay and is the co-owner of Parknasilla Hotel and owner of Rossdohan Island.
The Irish judgment was sought via a summary application by MGG so it could seek to enforce the amount against Mr Safra’s Irish assets. It said a similar application has been successfully brought before the courts in the British Virgin Islands, where Mr Safra is also believed to have assets.
In her ruling on Thursday, Ms Justice Roberts said she was not prepared to give judgment against Mr Safra relating to interest allegedly accruing at 9 per cent since the US judgment was made in October 2022. It was argued on behalf of MGG that this interest has already exceeded $16 million.
The judge was not satisfied the particulars of this interest were properly set out, so this issue could not be resolved in a summary application. It must be remitted for a substantial hearing, if MGG intends to pursue this.
MGG’s senior counsel, Eoin McCullough, told her earlier this month that Mr Safra, had signed an affidavit admitting his debt, which arose out of a personal guarantee for 2018 loans to his company, Spring Mountain Vineyard Inc (SMV).
MGG, acting as administrative and collateral agent for various private lenders, used Mr Safra’s affidavit of confession, after he defaulted on a third forbearance agreement, to obtain the US judgment, the court heard.
MGG, which has a registered office in New York, said it received $32 million from the sale of Mr Safra’s winery business, which had in September 2022 filed a voluntary Chapter 11 petition, commencing a bankruptcy reorganisation.
The lending agent said it had “acute concerns” Mr Safra’s assets were reducing in a way not fully explained, while his three Irish assets had allegedly seen significant reductions in their fair market value.
The claims were denied and Mr Safra argued the amount sought against him in the Irish proceedings was not clear and did not properly credit him for sums obtained through a sale of secured assets.
He contended his vineyard and associated assets sold are valued at €350 million, and MGG “deliberately engineered a situation in which it acquired these assets for a fraction of their appraised value”.
MGG rejected the suggestion it was attempting to make a windfall profit from Mr Safra’s default. It argued it was SMV, under the control of Mr Safra, who petitioned for bankruptcy to ensure MGG could not exercise its security rights.
In her Thursday decision, Ms Justice Roberts said she received evidence from a US attorney, on behalf of MGG, confirming that the New York judgment is final and conclusive and that the supreme court there had jurisdiction over Mr Safra who voluntarily agreed to submit to that jurisdiction.
She said Mr Safra did not appeal or move to challenge the US judgment.
Ms Justice Roberts said she could find no public policy considerations under Irish law that would prevent enforcing the New York judgment here. She was satisfied she could grant summary judgment for $159.8 million in favour of MGG.
Noting Mr Safra’s lawyers have indicated he will apply for a pause to the ruling’s effects, she scheduled for the case to return to her in two weeks.
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