In June 2012, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan stated in the Dail in response to a question from the Fianna Fail finance spokesperson Michael McGrath that “NAMA advises that it is currently challenging the release from bankruptcy in Northern Ireland of one debtor, due to non-cooperation with the bankruptcy trustee” NAMA has not confirmed the identity of the Northern Ireland bankruptcy that it is challenging but this might be the one.
Back in June 2011, Northern Ireland developer and businessman Sean McWilliams from Derry and his wife Mary McWilliams were declared bankrupt at the behest of AIB. AIB subsequently challenged their discharge from bankruptcy which would normally have occurred in June 2012 – the UK bankruptcy period is 12 months compared with 3-12 years in (the Republic of) Ireland. AIB was initially unsuccessful but at the start of October, 2012 Judge Deeny in Belfast’s High Court ruled that AIB was entitled to now present new material which might impinge upon the discharge from bankruptcy of Mr and Mrs McWilliams. Judge Deeny comments that “I enquired from counsel in chambers, and was told that the AIB Group were now not at the forefront or heart of the dispute between the parties” and the betting in some quarters is that it is NAMA which is driving the challenge.
It seems that there is concern on the bankruptcy official’s part that there are assets or dealings by the McWilliamses which have not hitherto been declared, but these matters were not set out in any detail in the judgment. One asset or dealing might relate to an apartment in the Centria building in Manhattan which might be familiar to some of our readers as it was at 19E that Ray Grehan owned an apartment which NAMA went to court about and was apparently successful in stopping a sale by the Galway developer who was declared bankrupt in the UK, though NAMA continues to pursue him there over a transaction involving an apartment at One Hyde Park in Knightsbridge, London. In the case of McWilliams, it seems an apartment registered to the couple , an apartment bought by the McWilliamses in 2007 for USD 1.445m and sold to a company called Kravet Inc for USD 1.193m in 2009, may have piqued the interest of the bankruptcy official.
The McWilliamses were described by Judge Deeny as being involved “at a very substantial level, in dealing in property in France (including Cap Ferrat) and the United States and perhaps elsewhere of a valuable kind and they achieved a significant number of sales” According to the BBC which reported on the matter yesterday, the couple “owned a number of property companies registered in Swatragh and Dublin and had their biggest projects in County Donegal”
The BBC reports that the case is set to return to court in Belfast on 5th November 2012 and that the bankruptcy which would have been discharged in June 2012 continues until the appeal has been heard.
UPDATE: 8th November, 2012. News today that the Official Receiver has abandoned their challenge to the discharge of the McWilliams couple. A statement issued on behalf of the couple says “Given the criticisms against them in the original judgement and clear lack of evidence it is difficult to comprehend why the Official Receiver/Trustee refused to accept the original decision of the Court, and sought to drag us through further proceedings…Those questions are for others to pose, we are just glad to have come through the process fully exonerated and can now look forward to rebuilding our lives”