O’Donnells went from €1bn portfolio to seeking bankruptcy

Couple set up investment vehicle Vico Capital and became major name in UK commercial property

Solicitor Brian O’Donnell with his wife Mary Patricia O’Donnell. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Solicitor Brian O’Donnell with his wife Mary Patricia O’Donnell. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Brian and Mary Patricia O’Donnell were, by any measure, among the most low-profile of the property developing set that invested heavily in bricks and mortar at home and abroad during the boom years.

A former managing partner of William Fry, Mr O’Donnell left the firm in 1999, a year after he and his wife bought the family home on Vico Road.

He set up his own corporate law firm, Brian O’Donnell and Partners, which acted in numerous deals including the €380 million sale of the Mater Private to CapVest, a venture capital fund.

In 2005 the couple set up an investment vehicle, Vico Capital. They became one of the biggest names in UK commercial property, particularly in the City of London, and also acquired office buildings and commercial space in Dublin, Stockholm and Washington.

However, while their profile was low, their borrowings were anything but.

Accumulated debts

At the peak of the market their properties were estimated to be worth €1.1 billion - but the couple and their various companies had accumulated debts of close to €900 million.

When property prices started tumbling at home and elsewhere, the couple and their investment vehicles ran out of road on which to manoeuvre.

In January 2011, Bank of Ireland took a High Court action aimed at forcing the O’Donnells to repay €69.5 million of property-related loans.

The case was quickly settled, but a further court action later that year resulted in the couple having a €71.5 million judgment recorded against them on the basis that they failed to make two repayments totalling €28 million agreed as part of the earlier deal.

As the court actions proceeded through 2012, almost every asset the couple owned - or owned in trust by their children - came under the spotlight.

Various statements of affairs submitted to Bank of Ireland by the O’Donnells between 2005 and 2006 provided differing values for the couple’s art collection, one court hearing was told.

The collection was valued at €7.5 million by accountants Deloitte in 2005 and a year later at €5 million by Mr O’Donnell’s brother-in-law, an accountant, in three statements of affairs.

‘Ludicrous’ valuation

Mr O’Donnell said the €5 million valuation was incorrect and he described the €7.5 million valuation as “ludicrous”.

In an affidavit supplied to the bank in 2012, he stated the total value of the contents of Gorse Hill and a home on London’s Barton Street where the couple were said to be living was about €150,000.

As pressure mounted, properties in Washington and London were sold, and the couple sought bankruptcy in the UK.

Their request for the protection of the British bankruptcy courts was rejected after a judge questioned the couple’s evidence claiming London was their main centre of interest.

One consequence of that decision was the drama high on Killiney Hill this week.