Property developer Seán Dunne has been found in contempt by a US court for disobeying a subpoena compelling him to produce emails about his property dealings to his bankruptcy official.
The Connecticut bankruptcy court has also ordered internet giant Google and telecoms firm AT&T to hand over the official emails from two Gmail accounts belonging to Mr Dunne.
The court granted the order to Mr Dunne's US bankruptcy trustee Rich Coan. He is trying to find out the Co Carlow developer's role in various property deals as part of his legal action aimed at reversing tens of millions of euro in asset transfers to the businessman's wife, Gayle Killilea.
The far-reaching ruling is the first time Mr Dunne has been held in contempt since filing for bankruptcy four years ago. It raises the stakes for Mr Dunne in the long-running legal battle with his US bankruptcy trustee. It leaves Mr Dunne facing a financial penalty with the potential for further sanctions against him should he fail to comply with the latest court order.
The judge ordered Mr Dunne to pay the trustee’s expenses and legal fees connected with the applications to force him to produce a vast array of emails and financial records.
The fees are likely to run to tens of thousands of euro. The businessman could face further penalties if he fails to produce the emails. Judges can impose per-day fines for non-compliance.
US district judge Julie Manning signed off on the order yesterday compelling Mr Dunne to co-operate in the production of emails from two Gmail accounts bearing his name. Mr Coan said he failed to produce them under a subpoena in July 2016 or a court order in December 2016.
Mr Dunne had claimed that he had complied with the subpoena but Mr Coan produced emails to and from the developer that he had not disclosed and which had emerged in a separate US court action.
The developer must also produce a list of email accounts he has used since the start of 2010.
The trustee wants Mr Dunne's emails outlining his business relationship with Ms Killilea and John Dunne, his son from his first marriage, and various US companies he owns.
He is seeking emails showing Mr Dunne’s transfer of various Irish properties to Ms Killilea, including Walford, the property on Shrewsbury Road in Dublin that he bought for €58 million in 2005 making it Ireland’s most expensive house.
Mr Dunne can appeal the judge’s ruling.
One of the Celtic Tiger era's most prolific developers, and one of the biggest casualties of the property crash, the businessman filed for bankruptcy in the US in 2013 with debts of €700 million.
He was made bankrupt in Ireland later that year on an application taken by Ulster Bank, which helped fund his ill-timed scheme to redevelop Ballsbridge into Dublin's answer to Knightsbridge.
The High Court was told in May that Ms Killilea had legally separated from Mr Dunne.