LUXURY car collection worth almost €300,000 owned by disgraced lawyer Thomas Byrne was seized just days before the Law Society shut his practice down.
A group of five men turned up to a lockup on an industrial estate in Walkinstown where the collection was parked, and drove away a number of cars.
They are understood to be used by drivers at two limousine-hire companies believed to have been funded by Mr Byrne, who last Wednesday was ordered by the High Court to pay e30m back to four financial institutions. He was before the courts in connection with dodgy home loans totalling €35m.
One of the biggest loans is the e9m he borrowed from IIB Bank in August. As well as demanding that Mr Byrne hand the money back, the judge has also ordered that he be investigated by the National Bureau of Fraud Investigation.
And on Friday, detectives from the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) and the fraud bureau seized thousands of documents belonging to the solicitor that were stored at the Law Society.
The car collection included two replica 1930s-style Beauford Tourer convertibles worth e16,000 each, a €78,000 Bentley Arnage, a €120,000 Bentley Continental Flying Spur and a €56,000 Mercedes E Class.
The cars were hired out as part of corporate and private packages. One of the companies employs drivers who all have ‘security clearance at diplomatic level’.
Some of the cars were stored at a garage on the industrial estate but were driven away some time after businessman Brian Downes, 40 – reportedly a client of Mr Byrne – was gunned down.
Downes was shot in Walkinstown, south Dublin, along with local car dealer Eddie Ward, 27 – with whom he happened to be talking at the time – on October 5. Downes was a gangland ‘Mr Fixit’ said to have been involved in money laundering and stolen cars. At the time of his death, he is thought to have had assets of more than €7.5m and was being investigated by CAB.
According to newspaper reports, CAB detectives were also taking an interest in Mr Byrne – who is not known to have either been convicted of any criminal offences or been involved in criminal activity.
But he is said to be living in fear of his life because a number of his clients are believed to be linked to various crime bosses.
Mr Byrne’s link to Downes was further underlined last night when it emerged that he used Mr Byrne’s former marital home as his private address.
The 5 Greenhills Road address – where Mr Byrne used to live with estranged wife Michelle, is given under details of Downes’s directorship of a firm called Vans for Cash Ltd, which was set up last January.
A former associate of Mr Byrne said last night: ‘Everyone is trying to make sense of what on earth has been going on in this guy’s life.
‘The people who came to collect his cars didn’t look as if they worked for your regular, main street collection agency.
‘There wasn’t any violence but from what I hear, they made sure people knew they meant business and fully intended taking back the cars.’ The source added: ‘Very few people outside Byrne’s circle of business associates knew anything about the likes of Brian Downes.
‘The word going round now is that Byrne was way out of his depth and may well have been pressurised into taking out loans by some pretty shadowy figures.
‘It’s little wonder he doesn’t look like a well man. He is not only in a lot of trouble with the authorities but some of his business associates and clients are genuinely concerned that the trouble he is in could lead a trail to their door.’ Last Wednesday, the High Court heard that 10 EBS loans were made to Mr Byrne between August 2003 and August 2007 to help him buy property.
Mr Byrne owes the firm at least e12.5m, a further e4.8m to Anglo Irish Bank and e2.5m to ACC Bank.
Mr Justice Peter Kelly in the Commercial Court said Mr Byrne’s files should be handed over to fraud detectives because they contain what he described as ‘disturbing matters’.
What has stunned observers as much as the size of his loans, is how Mr Byrne was ever loaned any money after being found guilty of misconduct on December 7, 2006, by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal on eight counts.
These included the fact that he allowed a €1,696,969 deficit in his client account, failed to maintain proper accounts between dates in 2004 and 2005 and ‘allowed personal transactions of the solicitor himself to be drawn down from the client bank account, where no cleared funds were held on his behalf.’ As a result, he had to pay e15,000 to the Solicitors’ Compensation Fund and pay the Law Society’s costs.
Details of the case would have shown up on the most basic free search using internet-engine Google.
Mr Byrne – a director in Compass Property Development – is the second Dublin solicitor in almost as many months to have action taken against him by the Law Society of Ireland, not to mention a string of banks who loaned vast sums of cash.
The other solicitor being investigated, Michael Lynn, faces having to repay up to €70m in loans.
His case could also result in criminal proceedings against him.