Belfast Telegraph

Tycoon slams embossed cheque books

A lawyer turned property speculator fighting eviction from his former seaside mansion home has hit out at a bank which loaned him millions, for sending him gold-embossed cheque books during the boom years.

In Dublin's Court of Appeal, Brian O'Donnell also claimed Bank of Ireland Private Banking - a subsidiary of Bank of Ireland - is not in fact a registered bank under Irish law.

In his latest battle against the repossession of the lavish pile known as Gorse Hill, at Killiney, overlooking Dublin Bay, Mr O'Donnell said he and his psychiatrist wife Mary Patricia had substantial savings with the institution back in the "good days".

The former solicitor is arguing it is not licensed as a bank, but only as a mortgage intermediary, and was breaking the law, under Ireland's Central Bank Act 1972, by carrying on as a bank during an agreement with them.

When he discovered this, he told others who also banked with the subsidiary and they were "absolutely astounded", he told the three-judge Court of Appeal in Dublin.

"In the good times we had large deposits with what we thought was a bank," he said.

"At one stage we had to ask them to stop sending us cheque books with gold embossed writing on them."

Mr O'Donnell said Bank of Ireland knew of his challenge to the legality of its subsidiary and had crafted a strategy of running he and his wife in and out of court with "brute force" in an attempt to collapse their global business empire in a fire sale.

The bank has sued them in four jurisdictions - the UK, Luxembourg, France and Ireland - since September 2010, he told the court.

"Bank of Ireland effectively set fire to our businesses worldwide," he said.

Mr and Mrs O'Donnell have been given an extended stay - or postponement - until tomorrow on a trespass order served on Gorse Hill, where neighbours include Bono and Enya.

They are challenging the order granted by the High Court.

The pair, who live in Kent, had flown in to occupy the mansion - worth in the region of 34 million euro (£25 million) in the boom years but now valued at about a fifth of that - after their children lost a last-gasp legal attempt in recent weeks to keep it in the family.

They had consented in an agreement with Bank of Ireland four years ago to vacate the property if the lender sought it as security on their 71.5 million euro (£52 million) debts, but now dispute that deal.

In what has become known as the Battle of Gorse Hill, Mr and Mrs O'Donnell claim residency rights at the house.

They said they do not have any other residence in Ireland and need to be here regularly for their court cases.

Judge Mary Finlay Geoghegan ordered Mrs O'Donnell to come into the court this afternoon and confirm her wishes for an appeal to go ahead. She told Mr O'Donnell the "days were long gone" when courts will rely on a husband's say so alone.

Mrs O'Donnell entered the court room around two hours into the hearing and sat next to her husband, speaking only briefly to confirm she accepted she was a litigant and understood the potential consequences of losing the appeal.

She also said she was happy that her husband's submissions were also made in her name.

At the start of the hearing, Mr O'Donnell had asked for an adjournment on the basis that he was handed fresh documents from Bank of Ireland's legal team five minutes beforehand.

However, Judge Finlay Geoghegan said she wanted the hearing to start as special arrangements were made for the court to be available during the afternoon.

Gorse Hill is owned by a company called Vico Ltd.

In a complex arrangement, the Isle of Man-registered company's shareholding is owned by a discretionary trust set up by Mr and Mrs O'Donnell in favour of their children.

Mr O'Donnell became a major player in UK commercial property, with an empire in the City of London, Dublin, Stockholm and Washington believed to be worth 1.1 billion euro (£800 million) at one stage.

In previous hearings, he said he had paid over 700 million euro (£506 million) back to banks worldwide.

He had sold 11 properties in Ireland, including houses on Merrion Square in Dublin and on Lough Corrib, in the west of Ireland, such as Gortdrishagh House, a lakeside country estate.

His Sanctuary House building in London fetched 32 million euro (£23 million) which was paid back to their lenders, he told the High Court.

The case continues.

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