Court should dismiss case against Seán Dunne’s ex-wife in public interest, court told

Gayle Killilea is asking the High Court to dismiss a 2014 case that alleges Mr Dunne fraudulently transferred shares in a company to her in a bid to defeat his creditors

Gayle Killilea has been at the “sharp end” of litigation for 12 years and should not have to meet a 2014 Irish case brought against her by the trustee of the bankruptcy of her Celtic Tiger-era developer ex-husband, Seán Dunne, the High Court has been told.

The issues in the Irish proceedings against her, concerning alleged fraudulent transfer of assets between the former spouses, was or should have been decided in a separate case taken in the United States, said her lawyer as he opened an application seeking a strikeout of the case.

Alan Doherty SC said the legal action should be stopped for the sake of the interest of the public and his client.

Ms Killilea and Mr Dunne were living in Connecticut in 2013 when he filed for bankruptcy there with debts of €700 million. Carlow-born Mr Dunne was declared bankrupt in Ireland and the US.

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The pair maintain that the transfers occurred when he was fully solvent, but a Connecticut jury in 2019 found that Mr Dunne had fraudulently transferred to Ms Killilea assets worth millions of euro, including a mansion on Shrewsbury Road, Dublin 4. The verdict made her liable to pay €18 million in damages to the bankruptcy trustee.

A US appeals court dismissed the former couple’s separate appeals against the 2019 verdict. Each has filed separate requests for further appeals to the US supreme court.

Ms Killilea, a former columnist, is for the second time asking the High Court to dismiss the 2014 case that alleges Mr Dunne fraudulently transferred shares in a company called Mavior to her in a bid to defeat his creditors. It also concerns the transfer of the Lagoon Beach Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa, and all other assets transferred to her under a 2008 agreement.

In 2018 the High Court rejected her first strikeout bid, which was grounded on a claim that the Republic was not the appropriate jurisdiction and the action conflicts with US law.

On Tuesday, Mr Doherty, for Ms Killilea, said his client – previously a fairly well-known columnist, journalist and commentator – married Mr Dunne in 2004. The next year they agreed she would prioritise the family while he would be the provider, the court heard.

They entered a written property transfer agreement that stated that the Lagoon Beach Hotel would be sold and she would get certain sale proceeds, said Mr Doherty, appearing with Michael Binchy.

There was difficulty selling the property, so a further written agreement, signed in February 2008, provided for its transfer, he said. As part of the two deals, assets were transferred to Ms Killilea from 2005 onwards, with it being envisaged that she would get 20 per cent, or about €100 million, of Mr Dunne’s estimated worth, said counsel.

Mr Dunne’s “fortunes changed”, Mr Doherty added, and the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) secured a €184 million judgment against him in 2012.

Mr Doherty said three lawsuits were issued against Ms Killilea that year concerning the 2005 and 2008 written agreements. One of the cases fell away, while the other two were merged and heard over 14 days before the jury deliberated for five days, he said. He said the evidence “entirely overlapped” with the Irish case.

Although “maybe unpalatable” for the official assignee in Mr Dunne’s bankruptcy, Ms Killilea offered to have a unified case in Ireland or the US, with the jurisdiction to be chosen by the plaintiff, he said.

His side speculates that the plaintiff wanted to “leverage the advantage of having two jurisdictions”.

The application, which is contested by the official assignee, continues before Mr Justice Max Barrett on Wednesday.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is High Court Reporter with The Irish Times