A relationship with former European Parliament president Pat Cox prompted developer Michael O'Flynn to hire the politician's son Patrick Cox, the High Court heard.
Several companies in the O'Flynn group are suing former employees Mr Cox, Liam Foley, Eoghan Kearney and others saying they made a €12.5 million profit on a student accommodation project on Gardiner Street, Dublin, at the business's expense.
Developer Michael O’Flynn, who heads the group, told the court that during a “strategy day” for senior managers, on January 13th, 2015, Mr Cox, the business’s investment director, said there were “no sites” in Dublin suitable for student apartments.
Responding to senior counsel Michael Cush, the businessman said emails subsequently revealed that Mr Cox had secretly made calls that morning in relation to his own plans to develop a 500-bed student accommodation block on Gardiner Street.
One call was to Ian Matthews of Trinity College Dublin, who Mr Cox had also emailed to establish if the university was interested in the Gardiner Street proposal.
Earlier Mr O’Flynn explained that he had known Mr Cox’s father very well before hiring his son. “I inherited Patrick Cox because of the relationship I had with his father over many, many years,” he said.
The developer’s companies say that Mr Cox’s role included identifying projects such as Gardiner Street for the group. They say that instead he and the others used confidential information obtained from the business to develop the student block for their own benefit. The defendants deny the claims.
“What we did not realise was that the man in the key position had his own agenda,” Mr O’Flynn said.
Mr Cox left the group in August 2015. His company, Carrowmore Properties, one of the defendants, afterwards developed Gardiner Street.
Mr O’Flynn stressed that his group would have “grabbed” Gardiner Street with both hands had Mr Cox brought the project to it.
“This is exactly what we are looking for, we would have done the scheme had the scheme been presented to us,” he said.
“It would be complete and utter nonsense to suggest that Mr Cox and co could do it and we couldn’t.”
Mr O’Flynn dismissed suggestions that Mr Cox had the group’s permission to pursue his own projects, saying he would not have been allowed near the strategy day had his employer known he was a competitor.
“He would not have been left inside the door of our office if he was acting in such a disgraceful manner for any employee, let alone somebody of his seniority,” Mr O’Flynn said.
Mr Cox maintains he has a letter from senior group executive, John Nesbitt, that allowed him to pursue property development in Dublin.
Mr O’Flynn said that he and Mr Nesbitt understood the letter to mean that Mr Cox wanted permission to build a house and was being “over thorough” about his employment contract.
Mr Cox sought Mr Nesbitt's signature in August 2014 when the O'Flynn group was fighting a legal battle with US investment giant, Blackstone, which was bidding to put the business into receivership after buying its loans from the National Asset Management Agency.
“It was the most difficult time of my life,” Mr O’Flynn said, adding that this was when Mr Cox “arrived” with the letter.
While O'Flynn group's UK arm, Tiger Developments, originally employed Mr Cox, the plaintiffs say he worked across the organisation, including exploring various opportunities to develop student accommodation in Dublin between 2011 and 2014.
Mr O’Flynn noted that the group specifically wanted Mr Cox to work two days a week for O’Flynn Capital Partners from early 2014.
He rejected as “incredible” Mr Cox’s argument that he never had any role in identifying student accommodation opportunities in Dublin.
Mr O'Flynn stressed that the group placed "huge trust" in Mr Cox. "He was earning more money at that time, than anybody, including myself, in the whole structure," he declared. The case continues before Mr Justice Michael Quinn.