Stokes diverted funds from restaurant to wife Pia Bang's company, court hears

Liquidator seeks repayment of €63,000 transferred in ‘self-serving exercise’

Pia Bang Stokes was the sole shareholder of a company called Petrolo into which €63,000 was transferred. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Pia Bang Stokes was the sole shareholder of a company called Petrolo into which €63,000 was transferred. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Businessman Jeff Stokes deliberately concealed the diversion of €63,000 from an insolvent company into another firm controlled by his wife, Pia Bang Stokes, so he could continue to operate a well-known restaurant in Merrion Row, Dublin, the High Court heard.

The Stokes’s sons, Christian and Simon, were managers of the Il Segreto restaurant and had control of a portable credit card machine which was used to divert the funds, it was claimed.

Myles Kirby, liquidator of Il Segreto operating company Citywest Hire, wants Mr Stokes snr to repay the €63,000 that was transferred in a “self-serving exercise” as the restaurant business was in free-fall and which was to the detriment of creditors, John Kennedy, for the liquidator, said.

What had been done with the money was dishonest and amounted to a “cheater’s charter” where a business was coming to its end, he said.

Mr Stokes denies that what he did was fraudulent and said it was a response to a very difficult trading situation.

Mr Kennedy said that Il Segreto, on Merrion Row, was beside another restaurant, the Unicorn, operated by Springmanor Ltd, of which Mr Stokes was also a director and whose operating company went into liquidation in March 2011.

The business was taken over by a company called Vino Classico whose directors were Mr Stokes, his wife Ms Bang Stokes and Giorgio Casari. It also went into liquidation in September last year.

All of the Unicorn’s staff were transferred to Il Segreto which continued trading until 2013 under the Citywest company.

However, as that business got into trouble, in May-June last year, a credit card machine was used to transfer more than €63,000 from the business to a company called Petrolo whose sole shareholder was Ms Bang Stokes.

Christian and Simon Stokes were involved in using the credit card machine whereby sums of cash were diverted, according to Mr Stokes snr, to pay the restaurant’s bills and staff wages but for which insufficient evidence was provided, Mr Kennedy said.

The Stokes brothers had, in January 2012, he added, been barred by the High Court from being directors of a company for four years over their involvement in the Residence Club in Dublin and one reason for that disqualification was over the use of credit card.

While Mr Stokes snr admits the use of the credit card machine was ill-judged, it was done as an “ad hoc reaction to a difficult trading situation”, his counsel, Stephen Hanaphy, said.

It was not true that Christian and Simon managed the takings because this was done by Jeff Stokes’s co-director, Giorgio Casari, with whom there had been serious conflict, Mr Hanaphy added.

The court also heard the Revenue obtained an attachment order over Citywest’s current account in May 2013 and also issued a final demand for unpaid PAYE for more than €136,000.

Other creditors were the landlord of the restaurant premises and Dublin City Council.

Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan said she would give her decision on the matter later.