Sean Dunne verbally promised wife €60m, US court hears

Trustee seeking return of gifts to bankruptcy estate for distribution to Dunne’s many creditors

Bankrupt property developer Sean Dunne verbally promised his wife Gayle Killilea at least €60 million pursuant to a handwritten document the couple signed during a 2005 Thailand holiday, Ms Killilea has told a court in the US.


Sean Dunne verbally promised his wife Gayle Killilea at least €60 million pursuant to a handwritten document the couple signed during a 2005 Thailand vacation, Ms Killilea told a court in the US on Monday.

The figure was not included in the document, which instead listed properties that Mr Dunne pledged Ms Killilea 70 per cent of the profits at sale. She called the March 2005 pact a “post-nuptial” agreement – the couple had married less than a year before – to secure her and her children’s financial futures.

Her lawyer said it was necessary because Irish law does not recognise pre-nuptial agreements.

Asked by the plaintiff’s lawyer why she wanted the arrangement, she said she desired her own wealth independent of her husband and his businesses. Mr Dunne later turned over tens of millions of euro in property, cash and other assets to Ms Killilea in accordance with the agreement, according to testimony during the civil trial of Mr Dunne.

The trustee in Mr Dunne’s American bankruptcy case is contesting the wealth transfers, alleging they were intended to shield his assets from creditors as his business empire was collapsing in the late 2000s.

The trustee is seeking to return the gifts to the bankruptcy estate so they can be distributed to Mr Dunne’s many creditors,

Mr Dunne and Ms Killilea’s attorneys deny he was insolvent at the time of the transfers, saying the assets were gifted out of love, not to stiff creditors.

The case, now in its seventh day, is being heard by a jury at US district court in Connecticut, where Mr Dunne was living at the time of his 2013 bankruptcy filing.

Not witnessed

Under questioning from the trustee’s lawyer Thomas Curran, Ms Killilea said she wrote out the agreement as Mr Dunne dictated. The agreement was neither witnessed nor notarised. Asked by Mr Curran why the couple, who have employed innumerable lawyers for their property businesses, never did so, Killilea replied: “It didn’t seem necessary.”

Mr Dunne and Ms Killilea added a second handwritten document in 2008 that transferred his ownership stake in and €4 million worth of loans his company held against the South African resort Lagoon Beach as well as profits from part of his Charlesland project to her.

She testified that the resort had not sold as expected and the document was intended to “clean up” a part of the original agreement.

During testimony late Monday and Tuesday morning, Mr Curran highlighted other wealth transfers from Mr Dunne to Ms Killilea, including €3 million in 2008 into her personal Credit Suisse bank account and a Dublin property worth €2.7 million.

Dublin hotels

All were intended to fulfil the 2005 post-nuptial agreement, Ms Killilea said. The purchase of Walford for nearly €58 million for Ms Killilea three months after the couple signed the agreement was also covered by the document, she said.

Mr Curran also entered into evidence a 2008 agreement under which Mr Dunne gave Ms Killilea the furnishings and fixtures in three Dublin hotels that he owned – the former Jurys hotel in Ballsbridge, the adjoining Towers, and the neighbouring Berkeley Court.

On the same day, Dunne’s management company leased the items from her for €15,000 a month. The next year, he gave her the hotels’ trademarks and agreed to pay her a royalty of €2,000 a month, according to testimony and documents entered into evidence.

Ms Killilea testified that she later sold the fixtures and furniture to an Ulster Bank entity for €2.7 million.

‘Chaos follows him’

Mr Curran also introduced into the record an email from Ms Killilea to her American lawyer in which she worried that she and her children could lose their US visas if Mr Dunne, the chief executive of her American company, became embroiled in problems back in Ireland, his ex-wife began pursuing new claims against him, or he got sick.

“The problem with Sean is that chaos follows him around the world and . . . I need to be prudent and always plan for the worst-case scenario, otherwise I become personally affected by his problems,” she wrote.

Mr Dunne is expected to take the stand later this week.