RETIRED businessman Ted Cunningham has failed in a High Court challenge claiming the State unlawfully seized £3m sterling from his home which gardaí said was part of the £26.5m Northern Bank robbery in Belfast in December 2004.
Mr Cunningham, aged 68, of Woodbine Lodge, Farran, did not seek the return of the money, but wanted the Garda Commissioner to provide him with an account of what happened to it after it was seized from his home in 2005, the court heard last month.
Ms Justice Miriam O’Regan rejected his judicial review case on grounds including that Mr Cunningham failed to discharge the onus on him to establish the money belonged to him.
This was particularly so in relation to the period after the Circuit Court made an order in February 2014 forfeiting the money to the State, she said. The money was later repatriated to Danske Bank, which acquired the Northern Bank, the court heard.
The 2014 order followed Mr Cunningham’s plea of guilty that year to two counts of money laundering when he was reckless as to whether two sums, of £100,400 and £175,360, were the proceeds of the robbery.
He received a sentence which was backdated to when he first went into prison which meant had did not have to serve any more time.
That sentence arose out of a retrial ordered by the Court of Criminal Appeal which found that in Mr Cunningham’s first 2009 trial on money laundering charges, an invalid warrant had been used to search his home.
He had pleaded not guilty at his first trial but was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The court heard he served some five years in prison before he was released on bail by the appeal court pending his retrial.
In his High Court action initiated last year, he claimed he wrote a number of times to the State for explanation as to what happened to the money, but got no response or meaningful explanation.
He sought a number of orders including one compelling the Garda Commissioner to provide an account of the forfeiture and distribution of the money and a declaration that the money was unlawfully seized.
He also sought an injunction restraining the inspector of taxes, through the Criminal Assets Bureau, which was also a respondent in the case, from taking any enforcement action against him pending the judicial review proceedings. He wanted the money taken from his home offset against his tax liability, the court heard. The State opposed his application and argued, among other things, it was within Mr Cunningham’s own gift to find out about the 2014 forfeiture order.
Ms Justice O’Regan said Mr Cunningham argued the 2014 forfeiture order was not binding on him until he got formal notice of it in May last year. Nevertheless, it was the case that that order has not been appealed or judicially reviewed, she said. The order was effective on the date it was announced in the Circuit Court regardless of Mr Cunningham’s understanding of it. He was present in court when the order was made in 2014, she said.
His judicial review was “demonstrably seeking to mount a collateral attack” on that order, she said. His application was therefore refused.