A member of Wexford’s Nolan Transport family, which is suing over the loss in 2013 of nearly € 7 million in pension funds, told the High Court he fully trusted the solicitor, Ciaran Desmond, when he suggested removing the funds out of Ireland to a deposit account the lawyer had in Switzerland.
Richard Nolan said that two years later when some family members were accusing Mr Desmond of having stolen the money, the solicitor was blaming “the banks” for the loss and protesting “I am an honest man” and that he had been “wronged too” .
The court heard the idea of transferring abroad the Nolan pension fund, held by Oakland Property Trust, came after a crisis family meeting in 2012 when AIB called in immediate payment on various loans.
As one of the largest trucking companies in Europe, with 900 employees, the family members were worried about the business, which was set up by their father James and his wife more than 50 years ago. The couple had 12 children.
Richard and his fellow trustees, on behalf of all 13 family members, claim misappropriation of nearly € 7 million of their € 13 million pension fund by their former solicitor Mr Desmond, a managing partner in McGuire Desmond, Cork before he was expelled in 2017. Their case is also against two companies and their former financial adviser John Millett of John Millett Independent Financial Advisors, Dublin, Mr Millett’s associated pension investment company, Pinnacle Pensioner Trustees.
Another aspect of the dispute is a claim by three men, Paul, Dillon and Darren Kenny, that they are the owners of the former Nemo Rangers land in Cork, which the Nolans say they own because some € 2 million of their misappropriated monies was used to buy that land.
The defendants strongly deny the claims.
‘Calmed the waters’
Giving evidence on Friday, Richard Nolan said the idea of transferring the pension funds was first raised at the 2012 crisis family meeting at which he said Mr Desmond “calmed the waters” and assured them individual family members might have a case against AIB over the loans .
During this meeting the issue of the family pension fund was raised and Mr Desmond started talking about the instability of Irish banks. Mr Nolan said Mr Desmond told them: “We needed to move the pension to somewhere safe and he talked about Switzerland being safe and Ireland was not a good place with the banks at the moment.”
Mr Desmond suggested the money be lodged in a Swiss deposit account called Clear Vision Solutions SA which he (Desmond) controlled. He also said it needed to be transferred via an entity in Dubai.
Mr Desmond also recommended that Mr Millett should become their pension trustee as he was “a good man” with 20 years’ experience.
Mr Nolan said that while the family raised concerns, they implicitly trusted Mr Desmond as their legal adviser.
Mr Nolan and his sister Ann, another of the trustees, traveled with Mr Desmond and Mr Millett to Zurich, Switzerland, in January 2013 to satisfy themselves with the planned scheme of transferring the money, where they also met a number of bankers.
The court heard there were five transfers totalling about € 5 million to the Swiss account and another of € 2 million to a company called Dildar Isle of Man for the purchase of the Nemo Rangers site, but which Mr Nolan said they knew nothing about.
Mr Nolan said it was his view that the monies would be in the Swiss account for five or six months by which stage the banking situation in Ireland would be clearer and they would be moved back to family control after that.
When Mr Millett asked Mr Nolan to go to the Isle of Man with him, but would not explain why, in May 2013 Mr Nolan raised concerns with Mr Desmond who repeatedly reassured him “everything was OK, everything was fine”.
By the middle of 2014 Mr Nolan was seriously concerned about the pension fund monies and attempts to get information from Mr Desmond and Mr Millett were difficult.
Mr Nolan said by December 2014 Mr Desmond was “not looking me in the eye” when they had a meeting. Mr Desmond kept saying “pension money was coming” and everything was in order, he said. At another meeting he said Mr Desmond “physically wobbled and was very nervous”, he said.
Mr Desmond came to New Ross in January 2015 for a meeting with most of the Nolans and there he blamed “the bankers” for what happened and said he was an honest man. He denied an accusation by some family members he had stolen the money.
The case continues next week.