The wife of a Dublin businessman detained in China for almost three years has called on Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to travel to Beijing to plead directly for his release.
Richard O’Halloran, a 46-year-old father of four, has been blocked from leaving China since February 2019 over a legal dispute involving a Dublin-based aircraft leasing firm he works for.
His wife Tara said she had not received contact from anyone in Government or the Department of Foreign Affairs since November and she is concerned about the lack of progress in efforts to find a solution to the commercial dispute and secure Mr O'Halloran's release.
She told The Irish Times that her children had to endure “third Christmas on FaceTime” with their father and his parents, who are in their 80s, “fear they are never going to see him”.
“We are very much at a place where we don’t know what else to do. We are really now pulling on the Government to try and do something immediately. It is nearly three years,” she said.
“We need some action. We are just asking that Simon Coveney go to China and meet face-to-face with the foreign minister or whoever it needs to be. Nothing is working that they have done in the past. We are in a place where we are really desperate.”
Last May, Mr Coveney met Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in Guiyang, China as part of Ireland's two-year membership of the UN Security Council and used the opportunity to raise the case of the businessman.
Mr O'Halloran travelled to Shanghai almost three years ago in an attempt to resolve a commercial dispute involving the Chinese owner of China International Aviation Leasing Service (CALS), the aircraft leasing company he works for.
The dispute centres over Min Jindong, the chairman and main shareholder of CALS, and his raising of funds from Chinese investors to buy an Airbus aircraft that predates Mr O'Halloran's employment with the company. The airplane has been leased to a Finnish airline.
Mr O’Halloran testified as a witness in the prosecution of Min for fraud. The Dubliner is not suspected of any wrongdoing, nor has been charged with any crime.
The Chinese authorities are demanding the money used to buy the plane be returned to Chinese investors and Mr O’Halloran has been prohibited from leaving the country.
CALS is not in a position to repay the money. A proposal made by Irish businessman Ulick McEvaddy, who became a director of the company to try to secure Mr O’Halloran’s release, offered to make monthly payment’s to the Chinese authorities from the aircraft’s lease income.
Mr O’Halloran’s brother David wrote to Mr Coveney and other politicians last week calling for the the Government to “forcefully” demand his release through Irish, EU and UN channels.
“David came over at Christmas time to visit the family and he was just so upset by the effect that this has had on everybody,” said Tara O’Halloran.
Echoing her brother-in-law’s plea in his letter, she said her husband’s situation was “not a commercial matter or legal matter anymore - it is a human rights matter”.
Her husband was in “a very low place” and felt “abandoned,” while her children are “absolutely devastated” as they had hoped their father might have been home before Christmas.
A spokesman for the department said it was “very actively engaged” on Mr O’Halloran’s case and continued to provider consular advice, support and assistance to him.
"The department remains fully committed to this case and will remains until Mr O'Halloran is permitted to return to Ireland," he said.
“As with all consular cases, it would not be appropriate to discuss the specific details of the case.”