An audacious attempt by an Irish property developer to rid himself of debts of half a billion dollars by declaring himself bankrupt in the US has caused outrage in Dublin.
Sean Dunne, one of most flamboyant of the developers whose empires crashed after the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, has boasted he could be free of debt within months. Now based in the US, he says his creditors, who include banks and the state itself, are likely to receive only 2 per cent of what he owes. This has not gone down at all well in the Irish Republic, where the public blames developers and bankers for ruining the economy.
Dunne, who was once one of Ireland’s richest men and now lives in conspicuous luxury in Connecticut, maintains that during the boom years he contributed €350m to the exchequer, declaring: “I am personally happy that my debt to the Irish state is clear.” Presenting himself in a lengthy statement as a target of vindictive officialdom, he described the authorities’ attempts to recover what he owes the country as harassment. He claimed: “The banks have me on a wanted list – Sean Dunne is the ace of spades.” The mechanism he hopes to use to shrug off his debts is to declare bankruptcy not in Ireland but in the US, where the laws are much less stringent.
His move is the latest example of “bankruptcy tourism” – businessmen prominent in the Celtic Tiger era applying for bankruptcy in the US, London or Northern Ireland. This makes them subject to more lenient laws than in Dublin, where bankrupts cannot be discharged for 12 years. The Irish authorities have challenged such moves, often successfully, and can be expected to oppose Dunne’s strategy.