Anthony O’Reilly, one of Ireland’s best-known businessmen, a former billionaire and ex-chief executive officer of ketchup maker H.J. Heinz Co., lost a legal bid for more time to deal with millions of euros of debts.
Judge Peter Kelly rejected a request from O’Reilly, 78, for a six-month delay in enforcing a 22.6 million-euro ($30.7 million) debt to Allied Irish Banks Plc. The debt is among 195 million euros he owes to creditors including Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, Lone Star Funds and Bank of Ireland Plc, Kelly said today in the Irish Commercial Court.
The battle between O’Reilly and his creditors marks the decline in fortunes of a Dublin native known in Ireland for his lavish tastes and success as a rugby player as much as his business dealings. Once worth an estimated 1.67 billion pounds ($2.8 billion) with interests ranging from oil to telecommunications, O’Reilly blew away chunks of his fortune on publisher Independent News & Media Plc and luxury crystal maker Waterford Wedgwood Plc.
“I don’t think I should put a stay in place even for a short period of time,” Kelly said. AIB had already given the ex-Heinz CEO up until the end of last year to help him sell assets, he said, citing the bank’s affidavits. The lender is now enforcing its debt in case other creditors “steal a march on it,” Kelly said.
AIB lent the money to O’Reilly, and two companies linked to him, between March 2009 and May 2011, according to Kelly’s judgment. He said that in the bank’s view “the reality of the situation here” is “these defendants are insolvent. They cannot pay their debts.”
Niamh Hennessy, a spokeswoman for Dublin-based AIB, declined to comment on the case or how the lender intended to proceed. The bank is owned by Irish taxpayers after a 21-billion euro bailout. William O’Grady, managing partner for the law firm listed as representing O’Reilly, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
O’Reilly’s debt to Dublin-based AIB is secured by property and 238 acres of “exceptional stud land” at Castlemartin, Co. Kildare, almost 9 million shares in INM and Shorecliffe House, a Georgian property in Glandore on Ireland’s southwest coast, Kelly said.
O’Reilly, who gave the court an address in the Bahamas, sought the delay to help him sell assets “in an orderly fashion” including the Castlemartin estate, which had attracted interest from “international bloodstock concerns,” Kelly said. O’Reilly argued that a judgment now could scare other creditors and reduce the price he’d get for the estate, which is his main residence in Ireland, Kelly said.
“He avers that he has spent his whole life in business and built a reputation for honest dealing and straight talking,” Kelly said.
According to AIB, O’Reilly said he was solvent as recently as 2013 and had the means to repay the bank, Kelly said. This didn’t happen, which prompted the proceedings, he said.
O’Reilly is selling assets to deal with his other creditors as well. He’s agreed to sell a Georgian townhouse in Fitzwilliam Square in Dublin for 3.2 million euros and shares in INM to help pay a debt owed to a Rabobank Groep unit, Kelly said today, citing the businessman’s legal team.