High Court extends McFeely bankruptcy by five years

Court rules Priory Hall developer in ‘very grave’ breaches of bankruptcy laws

Thomas McFeely: “refused to co-operate in any meaningful way”. Photograph: Collins Courts

Thomas McFeely: “refused to co-operate in any meaningful way”. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

The High Court has extended the bankruptcy of Priory Hall developer Thomas McFeely by almost five years over “very grave” breaches of the bankruptcy laws, including hiding his interest in 12 properties in Dublin.

A total of 41 families had to leave their homes in the Priory Hall apartment complex in Donaghmede, Dublin, in 2011 because of concerns over fire safety.

Five years is the maximum period by which a bankruptcy may be extended, but Ms Justice Caroline Costello said Mr McFeely’s deliberate and continuing non-co-operation warranted an extension of almost that period.

She said he had failed to disclose to bankruptcy trustee Chris Lehane his interest in seven apartments at the Aras na Cluain development in Clondalkin, and in five units at Old Saw Mills Industrial Estate, Lower Ballymount Road.

He also failed to give Mr Lehane documents relating to those properties, or to disclose those documents were held by Coalport Building Company Ltd, a firm which acted as his agent.

Documents obtained by Mr Lehane during a raid on a Coalport premises indicated the five Old Sawmills units, with an estimated value of up to €1 million, were at one point co-owned by Mr McFeely and developer Larry O’Mahony, the judge said.

She noted Mr McFeely alleged his brother was beneficially entitled to those units and he himself only had a 20 per cent interest in them which was vested in Mr Lehane.

While a warrant obtained by Mr Lehane did not authorise the search of the premises leased to Coalport, no constitutional right of Mr McFeely was breached by that search, she ruled.

Regardless of his claims that the documents were inadmissible, he was still obliged to disclose his interest in the relevant properties but had not.

She reduced the five-year extension sought by two months to take into account Mr McFeely’s age of 67, but refused to reduce it by another five months to reflect his time spent as a bankrupt in England.

Her decision means Mr McFeely, set to exit bankruptcy in July 2015, will not do so until May 2020.

He was adjudicated bankrupt in the Republic in July 2012, with substantial debts including €200 million owed to Nama, at a time when his home at Ailesbury Road, Dublin, was being repossessed by Nama.

He was previously adjudicated bankrupt in England and Wales, but that was rescinded after a woman owed €100,000 by companies of Mr McFeely brought proceedings here.

Mr McFeely, who was not in court yesterday, had opposed the extension sought as oppressive, but the judge upheld arguments by Bernard Dunleavy SC, for Mr Lehane, that the breaches of the bankruptcy code justified extending the bankruptcy.

The judge said the non- co-operation and failure to disclose assets was on the “very grave” and “extreme end of the spectrum”, and Mr McFeely had “refused to co-operate in any meaningful way with his bankruptcy”.

Mr McFeely knew his initial interview with Mr Lehane in August 2012 was “misleading”. He gave his address as his late parents’ home in Claudy, Co Derry, when he knew he never resided there and did not intend to, failed to disclose his interest in the 12 properties and gave Mr Lehane the statement of affairs used for his English bankruptcy when he knew that was incomplete.

He also “unilaterally” decided claims by third parties concerning his estate were valid and therefore his estate had no claim to certain properties and his 20 per cent interest, “and quite possibly 100 per cent interest”, in some properties was of nil commercial value although there was no charge on the relevant properties.

The judge said were it not for the investigations of Mr Lehane, Mr McFeely’s creditors would be at a loss as a result of his persistent breach of his statutory obligations.

In this case Mr McFeely “flatly refused” to provide the address or addresses where he lives, failed to provide a sworn statement of affairs and provided a statement of affairs prepared in his English bankruptcy which he knows to be false. He had “greatly hindered” Mr Lehane in administering his estate.