herald

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Byrne guilty of €52m theft

FORMER solicitor Thomas Byrne was today convicted of defrauding 13 clients out of their houses or money and stealing €52m from the banks.

The jury returned guilty verdicts on all 50 charges of theft, forgery and deception after deliberating for 17 and half hours over six days.

The trial is the largest theft case in the history of the State. Mr Byrne stared down and did not react as the verdicts were read out. He was remanded in custody until December 2.

Judge Patrick McCartan said the evidence was overwhelming against Byrne and that the jurors decision was almost inevitable. He also praised their attention during the 26-day trial.

Byrne was remanded in custody until December 2, next. Judge McCartan directed that he received his medication while in custody.

Mr Byrne (47) of Mountjoy Square, Dublin stood accused of theft and fraud offences totalling €51.8m.

The charges alleged Byrne transferred clients' homes into his name and then used them as collateral for property loans.

The father of three is also accused of using invalid collateral to fraudulently borrow millions from six financial institutions.

He had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 50 counts of theft, forgery, using forged documents and deception between 2004 and 2007.

The jury had previously been ordered to acquit him of another count due to lack of evidence.

During his trial, Thomas Byrne alleged that his former business partner John Kelly was a "psychopath" who forced him to become a property magnate against his will.

Byrne (47) accepted that he owned between 40 and 50 properties but said that he bought all of these to use as collateral as loans for Kelly.

He said he had no interest in property or money himself and was acting under duress from Kelly.

Mr Byrne said that his former business partner was a clever man who wore a "Canali suit and drove a Bentley".

When it was put to Byrne that this description could equally be applied to him, and that he too was "a snappy dresser" Byrne replied "there's no crime in clever accessorising" to laughter from the court.

The former legal eagle's fall from grace resulted in him stirring coffees instead of addressing courtrooms, when he took a position serving frothy lattes at a busy cafe in Dublin's inner city.

But Byrne has now become a "rogue solicitor" after being found guilty today.

Byrne was struck off the solicitors' roll in 2008 after it emerged he took out multiple mortgages on properties.

He owes an estimated €40m to the banks and was found to have used his clients' funds to support his lavish lifestyle.

In 2008, he was forced to sell off his prized Bentley – it fetched less than half of its original €250,000 price tag.

The accused claimed that he feared for his life and the life of his seven year old daughter if he didn't co-operate with Mr Kelly.

Judge McCartan told the jurors that they could not consider this as defence as Mr Byrne was not under duress in the legal sense of the word.

Judge McCartan said there was no evidence that Mr Byrne complained to gardai at any stage about Mr Kelly's alleged threats.

Duress

"The law says that's not good enough," the judge said.

Judge McCartan said that Mr Byrne was claiming duress "in a human sense" but can't claim it in a legal sense.

The jury was also told that the fact that some of the banks got their money back does not mean a offence did not occur.

He said that the alleged offence occurred when the money landed in Mr Byrne's account.

He said Mr Byrne's claims that he intended to repay the bank loans in full also did not offer a defence.

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