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Sunday 10 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C

'We are so unbelievably happy': Richard O’Halloran reunited with family after return to Ireland

The businessman had been unable to leave China for almost three years.

LAST UPDATE | Jan 29th 2022, 2:00 PM

Screenshot 2022-01-29 09.24.54 Tara O'Halloran / Twitter Tara O'Halloran / Twitter / Twitter

IRISH BUSINESSMAN RICHARD O’Halloran has arrived back in Ireland and reunited with his family after almost three years.

O’Halloran left Shanghai on a flight yesterday evening after a deal was struck between Irish and Chinese authorities, allowing him to finally return home.

A spokesperson told The Journal the family is “delighted” to finally be able to welcome the father-of-four home this morning.

O’Halloran came home on an Air France flight via Seoul and Paris, arriving at Dublin Airport at 8.10am, the spokesperson confirmed.

Richard’s wife Tara tweeted this morning: “Thank you everyone for all your support. We are so unbelievably happy to have him back.”

In a statement released today, O’Halloran thanked politicians and the public for their support, saying: “This generosity of spirit can never be repaid.”

His full statement can be read below:

“On my arrival back to Ireland, I am making this statement in response to the overwhelming positive number of messages received by my family and myself, since it became apparent yesterday that my exit ban was lifted, and I was free to leave China. This is a day of great happiness and emotion as I rejoin Tara, Ben, Amber, Isabella, and Scarlett after three years.

“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 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.”

The businessman had been prevented from leaving China since February 2019 when he travelled to Shanghai to resolve an ongoing commercial and legal issue involving the Chinese owner of the firm he works for – Dublin-based aircraft leasing company China International Aviation Leasing Service (CALS Ireland).

‘A very difficult journey’

In a statement issued yesterday afternoon, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney confirmed that the travel restrictions placed on O’Halloran in China had been lifted.

“This has been a difficult time for Mr O’Halloran and his family. The Government has been actively engaged on the matter throughout and is delighted it has reached a successful result,” the statement said.

“The Minister wishes to acknowledge the recent cooperation of the Chinese Embassy in Ireland and of the Chinese authorities, and to thank all those who have assisted in achieving this positive outcome.”

A number of opposition politicians have criticised Coveney for thanking the Chinese authorities who had detained O’Halloran.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Drivetime yesterday, Fianna Fail MEP Barry Andrews said the “tone of a statement” made it appear as if the Chinese authorities were “blameless” in the situation.

“There was no basis in law for his detention and I think we have to examine our relations with China,” Andrews said.

Responding to these comments on Saturday with Katie Hannon today, Junior Minister and Fine Gael TD Damien English said Coveney and the Department of Foreign Affairs “have a job to do” and must “work with all these countries, improve diplomatic relations”.

The Chinese Embassy in Ireland said in a statement yesterday that O’Halloran is expected to “fulfil his pledges and commitments” as part of the deal brokered for his return to Ireland.

“The related court in Shanghai handles Mr Richard O’Halloran’s case according to law, and the exit ban on him has already been lifted,” a spokesperson for the Embassy said.

“We notice that Richard O’Halloran has left China. It is expected that he continues to fulfil his pledges and commitment and undertake his corresponding legal obligations.”

Welcoming O’Halloran’s return home, Taoiseach Micheál Martin tweeted: “I acknowledge the work of the many people in Ireland and in China who have helped make this day happen. It has been a very difficult journey for him and his family. Thinking of them today.”

CALS Ireland

Min Jiedong, the chairman of CALS Ireland and main shareholder of CALS Financial Leasing (Shanghai), was arrested by the Shanghai Public Security Bureau (PSB). Min Jiedong had been detained as part of an investigation into his involvement in a peer-to-peer and crowd-fundraising scheme.

He was later jailed on allegations of fundraising fraud and illegal acceptance of public deposits.

Among the investments made by Min was one in CALS Ireland for the purchase of an aircraft that was already on lease to Finnish airline, Finnair.

O’Halloran travelled to Shanghai in February 2019 to meet with authorities who were looking for the money returned to Chinese investors in Min Jiedong’s operations.

There were no allegations of wrongdoing against O’Halloran, but Chinese authorities refused to let the 45-year-old leave the country. O’Halloran’s time at CALS Ireland predates the time of the fundraising scheme and when the commercial agreement was concluded to acquire the aircraft.

Among the demands of the Chinese PSB (Public Security Bureau) were that CALS Ireland returns the currently-leased aircraft and pay €36 million to secure O’Halloran’s release.

With reporting by Adam Daly

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