Katy French pal ‘blew whistle’ on disgraced solictor Thomas Byrne

A MILLIONAIRE car dealer who has just failed in a High Court bid to ban a newspaper linking him to underworld crime is believed to be the man who reported disgraced solicitor Thomas Byrne to the Law Society.

Lee Cullen – who was a friend of tragic model Katy French and who loaned her a string of luxury cars – hired Mr Byrne until two years ago. He is said to have fallen out with him after the solicitor kept property Mr Cullen owned registered in his own name. He is also believed to have used some of these properties as security for a number of loans he took out to fund property deals.Mr Cullen, 35, refused to comment last night but is understood to have tipped off the Law Society in 2006, when Mr Byrne was found guilty of misconduct before his practice was finally closed last October.

A former associate said last night: ‘They had a big bust-up over some property deals. The details are a bit sketchy but Cullen stopped using Byrne ages ago because of the delays that had taken place by Byrne not transferring title deeds over to him quickly enough.’

The same properties are part of a huge portfolio belonging to Mr Byrne that is now at the centre of a major fraud probe.

One of the houses in Tallaght, west Dublin that the pair’s names are linked to was bought in October 2004 by Mr Cullen and sold just four days later to Mr Byrne, who sold it back to him just under two years later.

Mr Byrne, whose €300,000 luxury car collection was seized just days before the Law Society shut down his Dublin law practice, is being investigated by the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), as well as being sued by a string of financial institutions.

He is before the courts in connection with dodgy home loans totaling €35m. In last Friday’s High Court hearing, Mr Cullen – who has already had to pay €2.15m to CAB after its detectives investigated his business affairs – not only admitted to selling cars to criminals but also admitted he was a guest at convicted drug trafficker Shane Lyons’s wedding.

He said he knew nothing about Lyons’s five-year jail term and had never been involved in money-laundering or drug-dealing. He also said he was not linked to organised crime.

Mr Byrne and Mr Cullen have had property interests in Clondalkin and on Tassaggard Green in City West. Mr Cullen sought a High Court injunction preventing the Sunday World from publishing an article linking him with criminal activity and the death of Katy French.

The High Court granted the injunction in respect of stories linking him with Miss French only. In court, he denied claims that he introduced the model to an alleged major drugs smuggler.

Mr Cullen lent her the black Range Rover that she drove in the days leading up to her collapse at a house in Kilmessan, Co. Meath on December 2.

There is no suggestion that Mr Byrne has been involved in any criminal activity. But his affairs are now being probed by CAB, whose detectives seized thousands of documents belonging to the solicitor last month. They detail the big-money deals Mr Byrne was involved in.

One of the biggest loans he took out is the €9m he borrowed from IIB Bank in August. As well as demanding that Mr Byrne return the money, a judge has ordered that he be investigated by the National Bureau of Fraud Investigation.

His car collection was seized shortly after secondhand car dealer Brian Downes, 40 – reportedly a client of Mr Byrne – was gunned down. Downes was shot in Walkinstown, west Dublin, on October 5 along with local car dealer Eddie Ward, 27, with whom he happened to be talking at the time.

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.

Mr Byrne’s link to Downes was underlined last month when it was revealed he used Mr Byrne’s former Dublin marital home as his private address. The home 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.

Last month, the High Court heard that 10 EBS loans were made to Mr Byrne between 2003 and 2007 to help him buy property.

Mr Byrne owes the firm at least €12.5m, a further €4.8m to Anglo Irish Bank and €2.5m to ACC Bank. Judge Peter Kelly said in the Commercial Court last month that Mr Byrne’s files should be handed over to detectives because they contain what he called ‘disturbing matters’.

Thomas Byrne car collection seized

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.

WANTED: €18m Solicitor Thomas Byrne

THE DUBLIN solicitor at the centre of a €9m bank loan probe has been ordered to attend a court hearing next Tuesday.

 

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The High Court took the unprecedented step of ordering that advertisments be placed in newspapers to publicly serve notice on Thomas Byrne  and make sure he turns up for the 11am hearing.

No bench warrent has been issued against the missing Walkinstown-based solicitor and no criminal proceedings are planned at this stage.

But staff working for IIB Bank have so far failed to serve notices on him at both his Walkinstown Road office address and what is believed to be his city centre flat on Lad Lane, off Baggot Street.

 

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Byrne is the subject of an on-going Law Society investigation and there is now a suggestion that the amount of money he owes banks or other financial institutions may be DOUBLE what IIB Bank want to talk to him about.

IIB Bank gave him €9m last month off the back of security in the shape of 20 properties he showed them deeds for, tried to get him to fax them documents on Friday when they became concerned about the nature of mortgages on some of the properties and contacted the Law Society after he failed to do so.

The Law Society ran an audit on his firm and shut it down, slapping notices on his windows saying any clients should find themselves another solicitor.

Byrne has already form for misconduct – having been found guily on eight counts last December.

Solicitor Thomas Byrne

A DUBLIN solicitor found guilty of misconduct last year has had his client files removed and his practice closed.

A High Court judge has also granted an injunction to IIB Bank against Thomas Byrne, of Thomas Byrne & Co on 78 Walkinson Road, from reducing his assets below €9m.

Byrne, of Lad Lane, Baggot Street, Dublin 2, has also been ordered to stop using his bank accounts.

The Law Society has also started action against the 41-year-old, who was found guilty of misconduct ‘in his practice as a solicitor’ on December 7, 2006 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal on eight counts.

These included the fact that he allowed a €1,696,969 defecit 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 draw down from the client bank account, where no cleared funds were held on his behalf.’

He also failed to ‘ensure that receipts into and payments from the client bank account were supported by third party documentation’.

As a result, he had to pay €15,000 to the Solicitors’ Compensation Fund and pay the Law Society’s costs.

Byrne – a director in Compass Property Developement – is the second Dublin solicitor in as many weeks to have had action taken against him by the Law Society of Ireland. Michael Lynn is currently due before the High Court again in two weeks time. IIB Bank is also taking action against him.