Coveney discusses case of detained Irish businessman with Chinese minister

Exit ban on Richard O’Halloran raised during weekend visit by Minister to China

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney held a lengthy discussion with his Chinese counterpart about the plight of detained Dublin businessman Richard O'Halloran during a meeting in China on Sunday.

Mr Coveney met Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in Guiyang, China on Sunday as part of Ireland's membership of the UN Security Council and used the opportunity to raise the case of Mr O'Halloran who has been barred from leaving China for more than two years.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said that the two ministers discussed Mr O’Halloran’s case “with a view to achieving an early resolution of the matter.”

The businessman has become embroiled in a legal dispute involving the Chinese owner of a Dublin-based aircraft company China International Aviation Leasing Service, for which he works.

Tara O’Halloran, the businessman’s wife, who was aware of the discussion between the two ministers about her husband’s case at the weekend, told The Irish Times: “While we fully support any effort that will help get Richard home, we are not commenting publicly at this time.”

The detention of Mr O’Halloran and the Government’s request to China about restoring access to the Chinese market for Irish beef accounted for a large part of the discussion between the two ministers and a significant part of the Government’s request to the Chinese.

This was the first face-to-face in-person discussion between Mr Coveney and Mr Wang about Mr O’Halloran, though the Minister has raised his case in letters and phone calls with the minister.

Mr O'Halloran travelled to China in February 2019 in an attempt to resolve a dispute between the Chinese authorities and the company's chairman Min Jiedong who is serving a 10-year prison term for taking money from investors through a crowdfunding scheme, which are illegal in China.

The fundraising from investors took place before Mr O’Halloran joined the company.

The Foxrock father of four has cooperated with the Chinese authorities but has been prevented from leaving China. The Chinese authorities want him to help secure the return of tens of millions of euro of €160 million raised from more than 7,000 Chinese nationals to buy an aircraft.

There was exit ban placed on him - believed to be the first against an Irish citizen - and he was instructed by a Shanghai court to pay $36 million (€30 million) to be allowed to leave the country.

Mr O’Halloran has been interrogated by the Chinese authorities and has appeared as a witness in court several times during the 27 months he has been detained in China.

China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Ireland’s two-membership of the council gives Mr Coveney a unique opportunity to raise matters of concern to the Government along with matters concerning EU-China relations and the wider agenda of the security council.

His department said that he "outlined Ireland's position on the treatment of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. " China's treatment of the Muslim ethnic minority and the establishment of internment camps have been widely condemned within the international community.

Mr Coveney also expressed concern about China’s new security law that makes it easier to punish protesters and the implications that the law has on the “one country two systems principle” by which the city maintains its autonomy under a unified China.