Accountant arrested over bounced cheque in Qatar sues former employer

Bernard White claims Sepam issued signed cheque without funds to support it

Bernard White, of Gorey, Co Wexford, is seeking damages in excess of €1.5 million from loss of earnings, as well as damages for negligence, deceit and misrepresentation, from Michele Kearney, a member of the family that owns the Sepam Group, an engineering and construction business based in Clonmel, Co Tipperary

Bernard White, of Gorey, Co Wexford, is seeking damages in excess of €1.5 million from loss of earnings, as well as damages for negligence, deceit and misrepresentation, from Michele Kearney, a member of the family that owns the Sepam Group, an engineering and construction business based in Clonmel, Co Tipperary

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An Irish accountant who signed a cheque for his employer that bounced in Qatar was arrested when he arrived in Portugal on a family holiday three years later, according to a claim for damages before the High Court.

The accountant and financial controller was held in custody for 11 days while it was decided whether he would be extradited to the Arab kingdom, according to a claim.

Bernard White, of Gorey, Co Wexford, is seeking damages in excess of €1.5 million from loss of earnings, as well as damages for negligence, deceit and misrepresentation, from Michele Kearney, a member of the family that owns the Sepam Group, an engineering and construction business based in Clonmel, Co Tipperary.

Mr White is claiming that Ms Kearney issued the cheque in Qatar without telling Mr White, and despite an assurance that it would not be issued until there was sufficient funds in the Sepam account in Qatar.

He also claims that despite her being aware of the fact that he had been sentenced, in absentia, to a year’s imprisonment in Qatar, on May 6th, 2015, Ms Kearney didn’t tell him that this had happened.

Found out

He only found out about the conviction in July 2017, he said in his claim. This was when he was arrested in Portugal.

In his claim Mr White said that the fact that he now has a conviction for financial fraud meant he has had to resign from, and cease acting as, a referee for the Irish Rugby Football Union and the Association of Referees Leinster branch.

He also said he was dismissed from the job he was doing in 2018, because he could not travel internationally due to his then being on an Interpol arrest list.

The proceedings were lodged in the High Court in September 2020. When the matter came before the courts this week, Ms Kearney was directed by Mr Justice Tony O’Connor to produce a defence to Mr White’s claims within three weeks.

Lawyers acting for Ms Kearney said she was an executive of a number of companies including one in Qatar, that the claim involved matters that allegedly occurred in Qatar, and that the court had no jurisdiction.

All of the allegations against Ms Kearney were denied, and she would be seeking to have the case struck out, the lawyers said.

The Sepam Group was founded in 1976 and has been involved in major projects in China, Qatar, Bahrain and Britain, as well as in Ireland, according to its website.

Assigned to Qatar

In his claim Mr White said that he was employed by Sepam in 2013 and assigned to Qatar. He reported to Ms Kearney and her father, Augustine Kearney.

He said Ms Kearney and her father together own the Sepam Group, which was a group of companies in various jurisdictions. Sepam was not a registered trademark or business name, he said.

He said Ms Kearney knew that the law in Qatar was such that a person could be prosecuted for signing a cheque that did not have the funds to support it.

He signed a cheque on the Sepam Qatar account in 2014, for 844,164 riyal (€189,874), for payment to a company that had supplied materials for work on an executive passenger lounge at Doha International Airport.

The cheque was twice dishonoured and Ms Kearney knew that criminal proceedings were initiated. However she did not inform Mr White, the accountant has claimed.

Mr White gave notice in June 2014, and left his job with Sepam in July 2014.

He was arrested when starting his holiday in Portugal in 2017 with his wife and two young children and this “had a huge effect on his family”, according to his claim.

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