US court upholds contempt ruling against Sean Dunne

Developer gets longest bankruptcy extension for ‘deliberate’ failure to co-operate

Sean Dunne was described by the judge as a “deeply dishonest” witness who clearly told lies. Photograph: Collins

Sean Dunne was described by the judge as a “deeply dishonest” witness who clearly told lies. Photograph: Collins

 

A US court has upheld a ruling finding property developer Sean Dunne in contempt of court and in violation of a subpoena for failing to hand over emails to official handling his American bankruptcy.

The ruling emerges as the Co Carlow builder’s Irish bankruptcy has been extended until 2028. This is three months short of the maximum 15-year period when he will be 73. Mr Dunne was one of the most prolific developers of the Celtic Tiger era.

The extension, handed down by a High Court judge in a highly critical ruling yesterday, is the longest ever given to an individual under the bankruptcy regime introduced after the financial crash.

This means that Dunne will be liable for hundreds of millions of euro in debt for another decade.

Ms Justice Caroline Costello extended Mr Dunne’s bankruptcy over his “wilful and deliberate” failure to co-operate with his bankruptcy trustee, including hiding or not disclosing information about assets.

In a 97-page judgment, she described the developer as a “deeply dishonest” witness who clearly told lies, engaged in “wholesale non-compliance” of his statutory obligations and showed an “incredible” attitude.

Mr Dunne (64) was “deeply disappointed and shocked” at the ruling, noted a statement issued by his lawyers. He intends to lodge an appeal.

US ruling

The developer filed for bankruptcy in the US in 2013 and he was adjudicated a bankrupt in Ireland months later in a case taken by Ulster Bank, a creditor.

Last week, US district judge Michael Shea rejected an appeal by Mr Dunne, finding that a bankruptcy court did not abuse its discretion last year when it said he violated a 2016 subpoena and held him in contempt for failing to produce emails that might reveal details about his property dealings.

The judge said the court’s order to US telecoms company AT&T and internet firm Google to produce all emails from two gmail addresses – SeanDunne366@gmail.com and sean.dunnebb@gmail.com – was “not disproportionate” given “Dunne’s wholesale refusal to produce any emails”.

They asked the US court late yesterday for confirmation that he had purged his contempt.