Dunne denies valuable art hidden behind ‘secret panel’

Developer doesn’t want to come to Ireland to give evidence because of expense involved

Developer Seán Dunne has strongly disputed claims that there was a “secret panel” in a bookshelf wall of a K-Club house where valuable artwork may have been stored before the property was searched by the official dealing with his bankruptcy.

Mr Dunne insists there was no “false wall” in the house in the exclusive Churchfield development and contends the area in question, accessed from under the stairs, is a storage unit in which the sound system for the property is located.

He also denies being the owner of a safe found in an upstairs bedroom which contained what searchers believed may be the keys to another safe in the house.

Mr Dunne, an adjudicated bankrupt both in Ireland and the US, is asking the High Court to set aside a warrant granted last November to the official in charge of his Irish bankruptcy, Chris Lehane, permitting a search of the house at the K-Club, Straffan, Co Kildare. Various items, including artworks, were seized.


The warrant was issued at a private High Court hearing at which only Mr Lehane was represented. Mr Dunne claims it is legally defective and based on hearsay evidence.

He wants orders permitting Mr Lehane be cross-examined over the search warrant. Mr Dunne claims that would show Mr Lehane’s claims are groundless.

In an affidavit sworn in Paris last weekend, Mr Dunne denies claims by Mr Lehane that several pieces of artwork had already been removed from Churchfield and there were plans to transport more to the US.

Mr Dunne is willing to give evidence as part of his challenge via video-link from the US, the court heard. He says he is not the owner of Churchfield but the property is held in trust for his children by an Isle of Man registered company called Traviata.

He does not wish to travel to Ireland to give evidence in person because of the expense and inconvenience involved, his counsel Bill Shipsey said yesterday.

Mr Justice Brian McGovern agreed unneccessary expense should be avoided but noted Mr Dunne and his wife Gayle Dunne had sworn affidavits in Paris last weekend. It was clear the Dunnes travel here from time to time to see Mr Dunne's mother and stay in the K-Club property, the judge said.

Mr Lehane is opposing what he contends would be a “roving” cross-examination. While available for cross-examination if the court directs, he argues that would not elucidate the challenge to the search warrant. He also says no issue arises about the ownership of the property and any dispute over its contents lies between himself, Gayle Dunne and the Traviata trust.

Mr Dunne argues Mr Lehane’s assertion that he paid the premium in 2013 for insurance on Churchfield was not a legitimate basis for asserting he owned the house.

Mr Lehane’s claims that assets may have been concealed behind a false wall or in a safe was based on vague reference to the official assignee’s office having received information or evidence supporting his belief, it is also alleged.

As a matter of constitutional fairness, he should have an opportunity to challenge these claims under cross-examination.

Mr Dunne also argues it was implicitly alleged in affidavits of Mr Lehane that Mr Dunne he had submitted an incomplete statement of affairs for his US bankruptcy andlied under oath during those US proceedings.

“There is no truth or substance to these allegations but, it goes without saying, even the fact of these unwarranted and unsubstantiated allegations having been made against against me by Mr Lehane has potentially very serious consequences in context of my Irish and US bankruptcies,” he said.

Mr Lehane continues to make “generalised complaints” that Mr Dunne is not co-operating with his Irish bankruptcy although Mr Dunne he has provided full documentation from his US bankruptcy affairs, it is also claimed.

While he was now a "dual bankrupt", with an appeal against his Irish bankruptcy pending to the Supreme Court, a protocol on how this dual bankruptcy proceed has still not been produced almost nine months since a worldwide stay on proceedings against him was lifted in the US allowing the Irish bankruptcy to proceed, he claims.

This raised issues whether Mr Lehane is lawfully entitled to act in relation to his estate and obtain the search warrant, he said.

Mr Dunne also says the contents of Churchfield have been identified by his wife, his son John Dunne and Traviata. With "very few" exceptions, those contents are not items of high value and some were just of sentimental value to him and his children, he said. Mrs Dunne, John Dunne and Traviata support the application to have Mr Lehane cross-examined.

Mr Justice McGovern said he will give his decision as soon as possible.