Byrne alleges pressure to fund developer’s ‘outlandish’ lifestyle

Former solicitor breaks down as he tells his trial of ‘veiled threats’ against his family


Former solicitor Thomas Byrne has told his theft and fraud trial that he was under threat from property developer John Kelly to fund his “outlandish” lifestyle.

Mr Byrne (47) broke down several times as he described Mr Kelly’s girlfriend, Mary O’Connor, making veiled threats against his daughter when he refused to pay over €250,000 so Mr Kelly could travel to Spain.

Mr Byrne also alleged that Mr Kelly was “grooming” him to get multi-million euro loans on his behalf because the banks would no longer lend to the property developer. He said the banks knew he was getting the loans for Mr Kelly but did not care because they were so eager to be involved with Mr Kelly’s business ventures.

Mr Byrne told Damien Colgan SC, defending, that by this stage he was a chronic alcoholic and rarely came into the office. “I knew the whole thing was going to fall apart, and it did.”

He also said that after a colleague complained to the Law Society about the alleged fraud, he was told to come to a Centra shop in Rathmines. He said he was brought to a walk-in freezer at the back of the shop where he thought he was going to be killed. Instead, a sister of Ms O’Connor gave him a hug and a suitcase containing €10,000.

Mr Byrne said that on the same day, Mr Kelly contacted him and told him to leave the country “or there would be serious consequences”.

He travelled to Brighton where he stayed with a relative of an employee. He said he was later in a “seedy hotel” near Heathrow when he was persuaded by his estranged wife and his solicitor to come home.

Mr Byrne, Walkinstown Road, Crumlin, has pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 50 counts of theft, forgery, using forged documents and deception between 2004 and 2007.

He told the court he met Mr Kelly through Ms O’Connor and invested €20,000 in a property deal with him. He said the deal yielded a profit of about €1 million which Mr Kelly then demanded in full to “square things” with his bank.

Mr Byrne said he was reluctant but agreed to hand over the money after Mr Kelly became very aggressive. He said after this the developer “inveigled” his way into his practice.

Mr Byrne said Mr Kelly would demand money on a nearly daily basis, amounting to nearly €8 million over the years, to fund his “outlandish” lifestyle. He said he had “a voracious appetite for money but no income of his own.”

Social events
He told Mr Colgan that Mr Kelly organised a number of social events in order to appear to be a “mover and shaker in the Irish economy”.

Mr Byrne claimed he was scared of Mr Kelly so agreed to fund his day-to-day living but that the demands caused him to start drinking and taking tablets. One day after he had been drinking he felt brave and when Mr Kelly rang up demanding money to go to Spain, he told him to “f*** off”.

He said shortly afterwards he got a call from Ms O’Connor who said his daughter was wearing a beautiful outfit on the way to school that day. “That was the way they threatened me and my family.”

Mr Byrne said Mr Kelly’s current account had a million-euro overdraft which was constantly breached. He said the bank manager would ring him up and he would be responsible for lodging money to settle it for Mr Kelly.

He said the banks “loved” Mr Kelly but couldn’t lend to him because he had never paid tax here and had no income. He said the developer needed millions to fund various projects in Ireland and England so began “grooming” the solicitor to borrow money on his behalf.

He said the lenders were well aware the money was for Mr Kelly but did not question it.

He said that one time Mr Kelly told KBC bank official Noel O’Leary that Mr Byrne was the “right-hand man” to the founder of Prada. “I’m not of course but, having said that, if John Kelly had said I was one of Madonna’s backing singers, Noel O’Leary would have believed it because they wanted to lend money so bad.”

Collapse of practice
Referring to charges that he defrauded several people out of their homes by using forged deeds of transfer, Mr Byrne said these people had agreed to sell him the houses but that the collapse of his practice meant they were never paid.

Mr Kelly was putting him under pressure to borrow money and he was always on the lookout for properties to purchase as security for these loans.

Det Sgt Paschal Walsh who investigated Mr Byrne’s business after it collapsed, told the court that he also investigated Mr Kelly. He said the “vast majority” of the criminal complaints were against Mr Byrne but two complaints were against Mr Kelly.

He confirmed that Mr Kelly was not before the courts on any charges.

Mr Byrne continues his evidence on Monday before Judge Patrick McCartan and a jury.