Dunne tells Nama he regrets not selling up in 2007

‘I should have cashed up – if I had, we wouldn’t be sitting here today’

Seán Dunne walks into federal court in New Haven, Connecticut, yesterday for a meeting with creditors. Photograph: Steve Miller

Property developer Seán Dunne expressed regret at a US bankruptcy meeting that he did not take the advice of his wife Gayle Killilea "to sell everything" in 2007 before the property crash.

During more than five hours of questioning by a US lawyer for the National Asset Management Agency, one of his biggest creditors, Mr Dunne said Ms Killilea wanted him to retire in 2007 and for the couple to "have a bit of adventure", noting the 20-year age gap between them. "I should have cashed up – if I had, we wouldn't be sitting here today," he told creditors at the meeting in Connecticut where he filed for bankruptcy in March, nursing debts of more than €700 million.

Ms Killilea was keen for their three children to have new opportunities, Mr Dunne said at the office of the trustee overseeing his US bankruptcy in New Haven.

Paris, London, Geneva
The couple left Ireland in 2007, living in Paris and London before moving to Geneva in 2008 and the US in 2010.


Asked by Nama's lawyer, Tom Curran, why they chose Geneva, he said it had good schools.

When pressed, he said Switzerland also had "benign tax structures".

Queried about his day-to-day expenses, Mr Dunne said he has three bank cards: a debit belonging to his wife's company Mountbrook USA, and two credit cards on her accounts.

Mr Dunne said he received a salary of $100,000 (€74,000) this year from Mountbrook and that he was paid a further $1,000 a month consulting for another of Ms Killilea's companies, Amrakbo.

Nama has alleged that the developer is in fact behind multimillion-dollar property deals in the US and not his wife, as the couple claim.

Mr Dunne disclosed that Mountbrook USA was paid £175,000 (€208,000) for advice he gave a company owned by Michael Fingleton jnr, son of the former Irish Nationwide Building Society chief executive, on the construction of an office block near London completed earlier this year.

Beers with Fingleton
He testified that the last time he met Mr Fingleton jnr was when they met for "a couple of beers" at a Dublin pub last month before attending a rugby game together.

They talked about the Empire State Building in New York being up for sale, he said, and Mr Fingleton asked him when he would be back doing big deals. Mr Dunne said he speaks to Mr Fingleton snr “every six weeks to two months”.

Asked who paid for his travel to Ireland to attend rugby games, Mr Dunne said that if the travel related to business Mountbrook paid and if for pleasure, his wife paid.

“You can’t get very far on your earnings?” said Mr Curran.

“It depends on your lifestyle,” replied Mr Dunne.

“It’s not my lifestyle that is at issue – it’s yours,” said Mr Curran.

The exchanges between the men repeatedly became testy as Mr Curran pressed Mr Dunne for answers on his finances.

Mr Dunne said he “wouldn’t have a clue” of the location of the original agreements in 2005 and 2008 in which he gifted €100 million, one-fifth of his fortune, to Ms Killilea.

Asked about records on a bank account he held at a Swiss bank in New York, he said he didn’t keep them.

"It is going to take a significant amount of time to go through this if we don't get the answers," said Mr Curran in response to a reply about a hotel he developed in South Africa.

“I don’t mind how long we are here,” Mr Dunne replied.

Mr Dunne said he deferred the administrative work to accountants and lawyers because of the size of his business.

When it collapsed in 2011 he was a director of between 36 and 42 companies.

“I wouldn’t even know the name of some of them,” he said.

When the subject turned to how many email addresses Mr Dunne had in the US, the developer said that he had “reason to believe that one of my email addresses was being hacked”.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times