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’.