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Seán Dunne's wife won't profit from the sale of luxury hotel

South Africa’s top court made the decision last week.

Image: Lagoon Beach Hotel via Facebook

GAYLE KILLILEA, WIFE of bankrupt businessman Seán Dunne has failed in an attempt to overturn a South African court ruling which stops her from keeping the profits of the sale of a Western Cape hotel.

A five-judge panel in the country’s Supreme Court of Appeal handed down the judgement last week. It also awarded costs to Christopher Lehane, Dunne’s Irish bankruptcy assignee.

With the injunction he requested still in place, Lehane will now be able to sell the Lagoon Beach Hotel and distribute the proceeds to Dunne’s creditors.

The complicated ruling, published online, focused on where Dunne’s official place of residence is. Muddled by claims he lived in the US, Geneva and Ireland (at the same time), the court decided that the property developer’s domicile must for legal purposes be Ireland.

Therefore, the judges said the appeal by Killilea’s company Lagoon Beach Hotel Ltd must fail and Lehane can proceed with his plans.

The assignee had claimed that by transferring €100 million in assets – including this hotel – over to his wife, Dunne was trying to keep money out of reach of his creditors.

File Photo Sean Dunne loses Irish bankruptcy case. Sean Dunne has lost his Supreme Court battle to have his Irish bankruptcy case thrown out. The appeal arose after Ulster Bank brought a case in February 2013 to have the developer declared bankrupt, over Source: Graham Hughes/Photocall Ireland!

The court documents also point to the alleged marriage separation of the couple who were wedded in 2004. However, it did not take papers from judicial separation proceedings into account as the pair claimed to be living in Geneva since August 2008.

At the same time, they said in other court documents said that they were living in the US while a visa application was categorical in its view that Dunne lived in Ireland and intended to return there.

On the matter, the ruling reads:

Relying upon certain later statements of Mr Dunne, the appellant argued that the visa application was out of date, unreliable and ought not to be taken into account in assessing Mr Dunne’s domicile. In this regard, reference was made to documents in judicial separation proceedings that had taken place between Mr Dunne and his wife in Geneva in which it is stated that they had both been domiciled in Geneva ‘since August 2008’.
Also mentioned was an affidavit filed in the Irish High Court in 2013 in proceedings relating to his bankruptcy, wherein Mr Dunne stated that he was resident and domiciled in the United States and that, although he had travelled to Ireland frequently to visit family and to assist in the winding-up of his business interests, he had not resided there since early 2007.
All of these allegations to some extent conflict with each other. Importantly, Mrs Dunne in her papers does not attempt to explain away any of these conflicts. In particular, she fails to explain how it came about that the judicial separation proceedings took place in Geneva on the strength of an allegation that she and her husband were domiciled there.

The judges said Killilea’s husband, Dunne, was at the “heart of this appeal” despite being neither the appellant nor the respondent. They described him as an Irish businessman who “conducted his business interests through an intricate web of holding and subsidiary companies, as well as trusts, registered in different parts of the world, including tax havens”.

“Although he became a man of immense wealth, he also incurred considerable debt,” they continued.

Dunne has accumulated debts of more than €700 million. He owes Nama €185.3 million and Ulster Bank a further €163 million.

Comments are disabled due to ongoing legal proceedings. 

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