Irish businessman Richard O’Halloran said he is looking forward to “doing normal everyday family things” following his return home from China.
Mr O’Halloran was reunited with his family in Dublin Airport this morning after he was permitted to leave China following an enforced stay of almost three years.
Significant payments will continue to Chinese authorities for years following a deal struck to enable his return.
Mr O’Halloran was permitted to leave China on Friday after becoming embroiled in a legal dispute involving the chairman and main shareholder of his Dublin-based company.
He was reunited with his family in Dublin Airport this morning and travelled home on an Air France flight via Seoul and Paris Charles de Gaulle, arriving at Dublin Airport at 8.10am on Saturday, a spokesman confirmed.
Mr O’Halloran’s wife Tara, who has helped run a high-profile campaign calling for his release over the past three years, tweeted a photo of the family all together shortly after 8am on Saturday.
The family have four children – Ben (15), Amber (12), Bella (10) and Scarlett (8).
Mr O’Halloran initially flew to China in 2019 during the fallout from a crowdsourcing deal for an aircraft owned by his employer, China International Aviation Leasing Service.
However, despite giving evidence against the firm’s one-time chairman Min Jiedong, who was convicted of offences relating to the deal, Mr O’Halloran was prevented from leaving.
At one stage, €30 million was demanded of Mr O’Halloran, while hundreds of thousands of euro were paid over to the Chinese authorities derived from income associated with the lease of the plane purchased under the original crowdsourcing deal.
Happiness and emotion
Mr O’Halloran issued a statement this morning on his arrival back home.
“This is a day of great happiness and emotion as I rejoin Tara, Ben, Amber, Isabella, and Scarlett after three years,” he said.
“There was considerable input by a number of key individuals who were central in helping to arrive at this positive outcome and it is also important that I take this opportunity to thank and to express my sincere appreciation and that of my family, for the incredible support we have received over the past three years.
“Mr Simon Coveney, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, was a key figure in reaching a solution and he invested huge effort over a long period, but particularly in recent weeks, leading to a positive outcome.
“My wider family and friends of the family have been so important in the support they provided both in a practical and emotional sense; and with Tara I express our sincere gratitude. I would like in particular to thank my mother and father. Throughout the three-year period there have been so many people who have signed petitions, who were active on social media, who wrote letters to newspapers, and who made unsolicited generous contact with my family with offers of support and help. This generosity of spirit can never be repaid.
“I would like to sincerely thank The President of Ireland, Mr Michael D Higgins who wrote to his counterpart in China.
“A number of politicians at national and European level have been so supportive and I am sure I am missing some, but I have to sincerely express my gratitude to Deputies Charlie Flanagan TD, Peadar Tóibín TD, Eoin Ó Broin TD, Cathal Berry TD; and Cormac Devlin TD; Senator Michael McDowell, Senator Gerard Craughwell, Senator Barry Ward; and in Europe, Barry Andrews MEP, Sean Kelly MEP, and Frances Fitzgerald MEP. Also, Councillor Hazel Chu in Dublin.
“I would like to acknowledge the kindness of the people in China who looked after me when I was unwell and also note the support of Consular officials Wendy Dorman-Smith and Alison Meagher.
“I would like to sincerely thank the media in Ireland and overseas, for all the interest and support shown to Tara, my family and myself since 2019. The role of the media has been essential in maintaining awareness about the challenging situation I was in and I am very grateful for that. While I realise and understand the huge public interest, as reflected by the media, I hope in the coming period to spend time in private with my family and slowly return to normal living in Ireland.
“A number of other people have been very instrumental in the background in assisting in arriving at a solution including Ulick McEvaddy; my colleague in CALS Donal Martin; Denis O’Brien; and my brother David O’Halloran (who resides in the US). I know they are reluctant to take any credit, but I have to acknowledge their help.
“Finally, and most importantly, my own family; Ben, Amber, Isabella, Scarlett and especially my wife Tara. This has been an incredible challenge for them too and they endured many dark days. But they were always a beacon of light and hope for me and the hundreds of Messenger calls we had helped me to remain positive. Tara was an incredible tower of strength and kept the show on the road. I am home with them now and we are all looking forward to getting to know each other again and doing normal everyday family things.
“Once again, my sincere heartfelt thanks to everybody.”
Mr O’Halloran had to make two court appearances in Shanghai earlier this week to finalise and sign off on financial arrangements and future commitments to pave the way for the lifting of the exit ban.
It is understood the financial commitments relate to future payments from the income on the aircraft that was purchased with money raised from Chinese investors and leased to a Finnish airline.
The agreement is also understood to relate to the return of the aircraft to the Chinese authorities when the lease agreement ends in 2026. Monthly payments of more than $100,000 (€90,000) are currently being made to the Chinese authorities.
The Chinese embassy in Dublin, confirming that Mr O’Halloran’s exit ban had been lifted, tweeted on Friday that “it is expected that he continues to fulfil his pledges and commitment and undertake his corresponding legal obligations”.
The deal came at the culmination of a years-long diplomatic effort, centred on the Department of Foreign Affairs led by Mr Coveney.
“This has been a difficult time for Mr O’Halloran and his family,” Mr Coveney said on Friday. “The Government has been actively engaged on the matter throughout and is delighted it has reached a successful result.”
His family were said to be delighted at the culmination of a protracted process, which saw them engage in high-profile lobbying for his release. It is understood that his wife, Tara O’Halloran, had been set to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs next week.
However, there was criticism for the Government. Fianna Fáil MEP Barry Andrews, who lobbied for Mr O’Halloran’s release, said he was “puzzled” that Mr Coveney expressed gratitude to the Chinese authorities for their help when they were responsible for his detention.
“It surprised me because it implies the Chinese authorities were blameless in the matter and clearly they weren’t,” he said.
“This was a negotiation between the Irish and Chinese authorities. The implication of that is that the Chinese authorities were controlling the process and a process that had no basis in law.”
Mr Andrews also criticised the Department of Foreign Affairs for not using the resources of the European Union’s delegation in Beijing to help in Mr O’Halloran’s case.