A BUSINESSMAN has been sent to prison after a High Court judge found he was in contempt of court for failing to comply with orders to hand over possession of machinery used on construction projects in the Middle East.
Yesterday at the High Court Ms Justice Mary Laffoy ordered that father-of-four Donal Rigney be committed to Mountjoy prison until he purged his contempt and complied with the order.
The judge, who held that Mr Rigney had misled the court, rejected his claim that he was not in a position to return the machinery to finance providers Lombard Ireland.
He had claimed the items were the subject of criminal proceedings in Dubai, after being transferred to other companies without his consent.
Lombard brought proceedings against Mr Rigney, of Gortacur, Mount Bolus, Tullamore, Co Offaly, and his company, Donal Rigney Ltd, arising out of the failure to return to Lombard 17 pieces of machinery, including dumper trucks, cranes and excavators, located in Dubai.
Last May the High Court ordered Mr Rigney to hand over the machinery to Lombard's agent in Dubai, however this was not done.
The machinery, worth between €2m and €1.9m, was subject to lease agreements between Lombard and the defendants. Earlier this year Lombard sought the return of the machinery after payments due under those agreements were not made.
Yesterday, Gemma Carroll, for Lombard, said her client had serious issues about Mr Rigney's credibility. They had received several versions of events from Mr Rigney but did not know what to believe.
Counsel said that Mr Rigney had failed to disclose in a sworn affidavit the existence of legal proceedings in Dubai's civil court concerning the machinery or that there was any third party interest in the items. The failure to disclose that information resulted in the court being misled, counsel added. Counsel said Mr Rigney was now claiming that the machinery was no longer in his control and was registered to other parties without his consent. However counsel said Lombard was informed for the first time, shortly before yesterday's proceedings, that four of the items were now ready for collection.
Counsel said that Lombard suspected that the machinery was being used on a project being undertaken by a company of Mr Rigney's in the neighbouring state of Oman.
Suzanne Boylan, for Mr Rigney, said that her client was in a position to return four items but was unable to deliver the remainder.
Counsel said the machinery was the subject of an unsuccessful application before Dubai's civil court, after Mr Rigney became suspicious of his local sponsor. He later discovered the machinery was registered as being the property of the other companies.
In her ruling Ms Justice Laffoy, who refused to adjourn the case, said Mr Rigney had played "ducks and drakes" with the court, and it was "clearly the case" Mr Rigney had "misled the court". She said Lombard's suspicions about Mr Rigney's version of events were "well-founded".
The judge then ordered that he be committed to prison.