Sean Dunne offered seat on US company board to Bertie Ahern

Email in which developer seeks help from former taoiseach put into evidence in US trial

 

Property developer Sean Dunne asked Bertie Ahern to become a director of a new US business he was setting up in 2010, according to an email presented in evidence during the US trial of the legal action taken by Mr Dunne’s American bankruptcy trustee.

The Carlow businessman’s relationship with the former taoiseach is laid out in the email which also asks Mr Ahern to help him find business or a buyer in China for his South African hotel.

Lawyers for the trustee have argued in the US district court in Connecticut that the developer was in charge of the US property business, which Mr Dunne claims was owned and controlled by his wife Gayle Killilea.

The trustee is suing Mr Dunne and Ms Killilea in a Connecticut court in an attempt to reverse the transfer of tens of million of euro.

Claims

The developer claims the assets were transferred to guarantee the financial independence of his wife and her children, not to shield assets from creditors as his Irish business empire was collapsing, as the trustee alleges.

Mr Dunne’s email, entered in evidence over an objection from Ms Killilea’s lawyer, details Mr Dunne’s plans to involve Mr Ahern in business ventures in New York, China and South Africa and includes a recommendation for “a very good physiotherapy clinic” in Dublin used by professional rugby players for an injury Mr Ahern had.

The presiding judge in the bankruptcy-related trial, US district court judge Jeffrey Meyer, granted a request from The Irish Times to release the two-page email. The judge refused to allow a second email between the two men a month later into evidence following objections from Ms Killilea’s lawyer.

At the time of the email, Mr Ahern was still a Fianna Fáil TD but had stood down as taoiseach almost two years earlier. Mr Dunne was facing financial pressures at home after the banking and property crash.

At the outset of the email, dated March 2nd, 2010, Mr Dunne referred to “this morning’s chat, which was very beneficial”.

He sought Mr Ahern’s advice on possible business contacts involved in banking, property and construction in the US, who could help the Co Carlow developer establish a new business base in New York. He suggested that he and Mr Ahern later compare lists of potential “key personnel” in New York and on the US east coast.

Mr Ahern appears to have recommended that Mr Dunne contact Ahmed Shaaban, head of a technology firm Fulcrum and the New York-based Irish-American lawyer John Connorton. He also appears to have suggested that Mr Dunne meet former diplomat, Tim O’Connor, a one-time Irish consul general in New York.

Business associate

The developer suggested that a business associate, Anthony Kelly, join the former taoiseach during a trip Mr Ahern was taking to China, to meet people and help attract business to the hotels he then owned in Ballsbridge, Dublin, and the Lagoon Beach Hotel in South Africa, which was purchased by his company Mountbrook.

Sean Dunne at the US federal courthouse in New Haven, Connecticut. Photograph: Douglas Healey
Sean Dunne at the US federal courthouse in New Haven, Connecticut. Photograph: Douglas Healey

“I will book him a flight as soon as I know what dates you are travelling and also you might advise what hotel you are staying in in Beijing and he can be operating from the same hotel independently of your trip and available to meet with people if such personnel arise,” he said.

Mr Dunne asked Mr Ahern to see if he could meet then South African president Jacob Zuma about selling the Cape Town hotel as he believed Mr Zuma “could put us in direct contact with the right personnel”.

He said he believed Mr Zuma, on a state visit to the UK, was visiting Buckingham Palace and staying in the Dorchester Hotel in London, and asked Mr Ahern whether there was “any prospect” of meeting him in the UK.

“This would be of great benefit as there are black empowerment groups/pension funds who are mopping up assets such as Lagoon Beach Hotel throughout South Africa and especially in the run-up to the World Cup,” Mr Dunne wrote, referring to the international soccer tournament that took place there later that year.

The developer told him that he did not have “any contacts there” and that Mr Zuma could “put us in direct contact with the right personnel”.

“Unfortunately, as you know, South Africa is a very corrupt country in which to do business and it is only one step removed from Russia; that is why I am anxious to divest of Mountbrook’s investment there and use the money to invest in the USA,” he said.

Mr Dunne said that it was his “top priority” to sell the Cape Town hotel because he felt it was “a longer term play” than the Jurys Ballsbridge site he owned in Dublin “but is of benefit to open doors in dealing with people abroad, be it USA, China or South Africa”.

He sent Mr Ahern a brochure for the hotel which he was hoping to sell in a “quick sale” for €13 million to €15 million.

“Bertie, thank you very much for your help and assistance which is very much appreciated in these difficult times,” Mr Dunne said towards the end of his email, before sharing the name of a physio clinic he was recommending in Dublin.

“They specialise in healing injuries such as yours and all of the Leinster and International rugby players attend it. They swear by it and it has been responsible for the early recuperation of a lot of them back on the pitch,” he wrote.

He signed off saying: “Good to see you looking so well and in good form. Keep up the good work.”

The Connecticut court has not heard if Mr Ahern received or replied to the email.