Sean Dunne insists house bought for €58m belonged to Killilea
Former tycoon rejects accusation that emails and letters show he and not wife owned home
Sean Dunne outside the court in New Haven. Photograph: Douglas Healy/The Irish Times
Sean Dunne fended off accusations that a number of emails and letters appeared to show that he, instead of his wife Gayle Killilea, owned Walford, a Dublin home he says he bought for her in 2005. Mr Dunne was giving his third day of testimony in his American civil trial in New Haven, Connecticut.
Repeatedly asked by the plaintiff’s lawyer, Thomas Curran, into acknowledging his ownership of the house he bought for nearly €58 million in 2005, Mr Dunne steadfastly insisted that the property belonged to his wife.
He told jurors that he was merely acting as her representative as she was busy with their children and pursing a legal degree.
Mr Dunne dismissed one document in which he uses the word “we”, calling it “the royal we”.
“I am saying in this correspondence, ‘we, we, we’, but it’s still Gayle’s property,” said Mr Dunne. He told the jury that he gave the property to Ms Killylea pursuant to a handwritten July 2005 trust agreement witnessed by his son. He acknowledged he had not provided a copy of the agreement to his lawyers at least as late as 2011 – six years after buying the property – saying there was only one copy and Gayle had it.
Pressed repeatedly by Mr Curran on whether he had told his lawyers of the agreement’s existence, Mr Dunne responded that he believed he had but could not say when. On several occasions he referenced a 2009 email in which he says that one of his lawyers mentioned the original trust document.
Ms Killilea used a legal device called a “resting contract” to delay formally taking legal possession of the home until March, 2013, nearly eight years after Mr Dunne says he purchased it for her. That was the same month that Dunne declared bankruptcy in the Untied States, said Mr Curran.
The timing is key as the trial turns on allegations that Mr Dunne and Ms Killilea schemed to transfer tens of millions of dollars in assets to her name to protect them from creditors as his property business imploded, an allegation the couple denies. The trustee in Mr Dunne’s American bankruptcy brought the case in an effort to seize the assets so they can be distributed to creditors.
Mr Curran showed the jury emails and letters in which Mr Dunne talked to lawyers in 2006 about subdividing the property into four parcels, one each for his grown children and the main house for Ms Killilea. Mr Curran said the documents were all sent or addressed to Mr Dunne without being copied to Ms Killilea.
Mr Curran also noted there was no mention in any of the documents or later ones of the handwritten trust agreement under which Mr Dunne says Ms Killilea owned the property. Mr Curran sought to raise a question about the authenticity of the document by referring to it before the jury as the “alleged” or “purported” agreement.
Mr Dunne insisted that it was Ms Killlilea’s idea to subdivide the property and he was merely acting on her behalf. Subdividing the property was one of several ideas Ms Killilea had, including using the property as the family home, said Mr Dunne.
In the end, Mr Dunne and Ms Killilea never lived in the house, moving first to Switzerland and then to the United States in an effort to escape media scrutiny, Mr Dunne has said. They eventually sold the home for €14 million, a fraction of what Mr Dunne originally paid
Later in 2006, the house was transferred to an entity called Matsack Nominees Limited, a vehicle to hold property which was operated by the couple’s lawyer.
Mr Dunne justified the secrecy surrounding their ownership of the home, subject of much speculation in the press, as necessary to protect their privacy and avoid publicity. At one point, Mr Dunne explored selling the house without revealing who owned it, which his lawyer told him was impossible, according to one email.
In an apparent effort to inoculate Mr Dunne and Ms Killilea from testimony about Walford, Ms Killilea’s attorney called Irish law professor John Wylie to the stand. He told jurors that “resting” real estate contracts are common and handwritten trusts are legal and legitimate.