Several parties accused of defrauding the well-known French film star Dany Boon out of millions of euros “no longer wish to contest the claims against them”, the High Court has heard.
The court had heard in late July that several of the defendants had intended to fully defend the claims against them.
In July, lawyers representing Daniel or Dany Boon secured a temporary High Court freezing order preventing Thierry Fialek-Birles aka Terry Birles aka Thierry Waterford-Mandeville and several corporate entities he allegedly either controls or is the ultimate beneficial owner of from reducing their assets below a value of €6 million.
Mr Boon also secured disclosure orders requiring the defendants to provide him with various documentation, in an attempt to ascertain where his money has gone.
The corporate defendants in the action are South Sea Merchant’s Mariners Ltd Partnership (SSMM), Hibernian Petroleum Limited Partnership, United Irish Estates Limited and Hibernian Yachts Company Limited which are all Irish-registered entities, and the Samoa-registered United Far East Oriental Holdings (Samoa) Ltd.
Mr Boon claims he is the victim of “a systemic and elaborate fraud with an international dimension”.
The claims had been denied and the court previously heard the defendants had engaged the services of Irish-based legal firms with a view to fully contesting the various orders made against them.
At Tuesday’s vacation sitting in front of Mr Justice Brian O’Moore, Rossa Fanning SC for Mr Boon said there had been “significant developments in the case since it was last before the court”.
Counsel said Mr Birles and several other defendants, except SSMM, had failed to comply with a court order to disclose full details about financial transactions concerning his client’s money.
This failure, counsel said, amounted to a contempt of court and Mr Boon’s lawyers had sought full disclosure of relevant material including banking transactions from the defendants.
The matter was raised with Mr Birles’ lawyers. The court heard that Mr Birles had agreed to provide the information sought by the end of September.
However, Mr Birles has not produced the material nor any evidence to back up his claim that he had sold his interest in SSMM to the Rossi family in Italy.
Mr Birles informed his solicitor that he, and the other corporate parties represented by that firm, no longer wished to participate in the proceedings brought by Mr Boon.
As a result, the solicitors’ firm intends to seek an order from the court allowing it to come off record and formally cease representing those defendants.
Mr Fanning said there had been a further development in the case regarding the position of SSMM. This is the entity which Mr Birles claims he paid €6.7 million to for various purposes, but alleges it was used by Mr Birles to defraud him.
In early September another firm of solicitors had agreed to represent SSMM, which up to then had been unrepresented in the action.
Mr Birles, counsel said, had previously indicated an intention to join the Rossi family as third parties to the proceedings.
The court heard the firm had received instructions from a person claiming to be a Mr Marco Rossi on behalf of SSMM.
Despite being provided with a purported image of Mr Rossi’s passport, the firm was unable to establish if the person giving it instructions on behalf of SSMM was who they said they were.
“Mr Rossi” had said he was unable to speak to the solicitors’ firm via a video call as he claimed he was “travelling in Asia”.
Eventually, Mr Rossi informed the firm that after receiving legal advice in Korea he also no longer wanted SSMM to participate in the case before the court.
This resulted in the firm withdrawing its representation.
Mr Fanning said he made no criticism of the solicitors in question, but said what had happened, and in particular the refusal to engage in a video call from China, Korea, or wherever this person claimed to be, increased his client’s belief that the Rossis do not exist.
The identity of the person giving the instructions on behalf of SSMM “could not be verified”, and the Marco Rossi in question is most likely “a fictitious person”.
Arising out of these developments, counsel said the situation had gone from being one where “all the defendants were represented to a situation where none of them are represented” and that Mr Boon’s action may not be contested.
Counsel said his client may also have to bring further motions in the proceedings, including ones adding possible new defendants, and possibly one for contempt of court against Mr Birles.
Mr Justice O’Moore, who noted the case as being “colourful”, agreed to adjourn the matter to a date in October and continued the freezing orders against the defendants.
He said he was satisfied to do this in light of the various applications made by solicitors who had represented the various defendants, and where it was alleged by Mr Boon that Mr Rossi was “an impostor”.
The position being adopted by the defendants was “unusual” and “less than optimal”, the judge said.
However, the judge noted that the defendants’ attitudes toward the proceedings may change when the action returns before the court.
In his action Mr Boon alleges that last year he advanced monies to entities linked to Mr Birles, whom it is alleged had represented himself to be an “Irish Lord from an ancient family” and an expert lawyer in maritime law.
Mr Boon claims that, based on Mr Birles’ advice, in July 2021 he invested €4.5 million of his money through SSMM in a scheme with the Irish Central Bank which he alleges Mr Birles told him paid 3.25 per cent annual tax-free interest.
Mr Boon subsequently discovered that no such scheme exists and, despite making several requests, the funds have not been returned to him.
Mr Boon also claims that he advanced a further €2.2 million, through SSMM, to cover the costs of running a yacht but does not yet know how much of that sum has been misappropriated.
In July the judge granted Mr Boon a freezing or Mareva-type injunction restraining the defendants from reducing, moving or dissipating any of their assets below a value of €6 million.
The freezing order prevents Mr Birles from moving a sailboat he allegedly owns called the Erin from its current location at Crosshaven in Co Cork.
The order also prevents the defendants from dissipating or transferring funds allegedly held in various bank accounts.
The order further restrains the defendants from disposing or transferring a property located at Strand Street, Youghal, Co Cork allegedly beneficially owned by Mr Birles, that Mr Boon believes was acquired with his money.
It is claimed Mr Birles, a French citizen in his 30s, committed the fraud by using a network of companies he had appeared to have established in Ireland and other jurisdictions and is somebody who goes by various aliases.
Mr Boon’s claims are based on findings made by a private firm of investigators he hired over his concerns about Mr Birles.
His investigation was sparked following an anonymous tip-off from a person who claimed to have also been a victim of a fraud committed by Mr Birles, the court heard.
Mr Boon, a keen sailor, engaged Mr Birles to help provide services for the actor’s yacht Umaren.
Mr Birles, it is claimed, advised him to utilise the Dublin-registered SSMM following a recommendation from a mutual contact. Mr Birles allegedly told Mr Boon he was a partner of SSMM which his family established over 100 years ago, to provide special marine services for Mr Boon’s yacht, it is claimed. Mr Boon advanced over €2.2 million through SSMM to cover the costs of running the yacht.
He claims he was later informed by Mr Birles that SSMM had been taken over by the Rossi family, and that he was staying on with the firm as an adviser.
When Mr Boon sought his money back from SSMM, he was informed by a person purporting to be a member of the Rossi family that the money had been transferred to accounts in South Korea and Panama and would be returned to him in due course.
Despite his requests SSMM, which Mr Birles later said had dispensed with his services, has not returned his money.
He claims the investigation revealed that SSMM was a vehicle of the fraud, that the Rossi family does not exist, and that any messages from them were actually from Mr Birles.