herald

Monday 24 September 2018

I was forced into deals, Byrne tells €52m fraud trial

FORMER solicitor Thomas Byrne has described his former business partner John Kelly as a "psychopath" who forced him to become a property magnate against his will.

Evidence has now finished in Byrne's theft and fraud trial after 21 days.

During a sixth day in the witness box yesterday, Byrne told prosecuting counsel Remy Farrell SC that Mr Kelly threatened to kill his seven-year-old daughter as part of a pattern of intimidation to force him to draw down €52m in loans.

DOCUMENTS

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 Mr Kelly.

He agreed with counsel that he was forced to become a "reluctant property magnate". The accused said he had no interest in property or money himself and was acting under duress from Mr Kelly.

Mr Farrell put it to Byrne that he had tied himself to the "most inept property developer of all time" and, "It really really kills you that he isn't sitting in the dock next to you."

The accused said he has now moved on with his life and denied that "it kills him" that Mr Kelly is not before the court.

Byrne, of Walkinstown Road, Crumlin is accused of theft and fraud offences totalling €51.8m. The charges allege he transferred clients' homes into his name and then used them as collateral for property loans.

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

The accused said Mr Kelly threatened him constantly over a seven-year period including threats to kill his seven-year-old daughter if Byrne stopped funding his lifestyle.

Byrne called the property developer "a thug in a suit" who could be very charming when he wanted to be. He described him as a manipulative, clever man who wore a "Canali suit and drove a Bentley".

Mr Farrell put it to Byrne that this description could equally be applied to him, adding: "You will admit that you are a snappy dresser?"

"There's no crime in clever accessorising," Byrne replied to laughter from the court.

He said that Mr Kelly would regularly scream at the top of his voice in the solicitor's office that he would kill his daughter.

He said Mr Kelly "still casts a shadow" over him and he became scared last Monday when he saw the property developer's solicitor at the back of the court taking notes.

Byrne said he knew that some saw his evidence as dramatic and said during the trial he heard a garda remark "it was like a scene from Gone With The Wind".

CRIMINAL

He said he didn't go to the gardai when Mr Kelly threatened him because he was so scared. He added that he was glad he didn't approach the gardai when he realised they did not pursue two criminal complaints against the property developer.

Counsel put it to the accused that in a previous civil case, Byrne told a judge that he had no ill feeling towards Mr Kelly.

"This is the man who you say threatened to kill your daughter?" Mr Farrell remarked.

The trial continues today with closing speeches before Judge Patrick McCartan and a jury of seven men and five women.

hnews@herald.ie

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