Irish millionaire developer Garrett Kelleher is facing a multi-million dollar legal bill after a US federal court found him in contempt over his involvement in a €60 million insurance claim taken by a group of Liberian businessmen.
Mr Kelleher invested $2.85 million in 2006 in the efforts of Liberian group AJA Trading to enforce a $66.5 million judgment against US insurer Cigna Worldwide (CWW) in return for a share of the lawsuit’s proceeds.
The case failed, but the US District Court in Philadelphia found Mr Kelleher and two others in contempt for their role in funding the AJA litigation, as they breached an injunction barring the Liberians from ever attempting to enforce the judgment.
In his ruling, Judge Paul Diamond noted how the court heard that Mr Kelleher and others attempted to hide their identity and the Irishman’s involvement in funding the litigation by using a series of companies based in Malta.
The judge described their actions as “outrageous” and “an affront to the court of the United States”.
Mr Kelleher invested in the AJA claim through companies based in Malta. They invested in CC International, which his accomplices established to get the judgment enforced on behalf of AJA and 22 other Liberian businesses.
The Liberians involved lost their businesses in the country’s civil war in the 1990s. Commercial property owner AJA claimed against an insurance cover it had with Cigna, but in 1995 the US district court ruled that the policy excluded damage caused by war.
The US Supreme Court upheld this. AJA then went to a Liberian court, which in 2000 ordered Cigna to pay $66.5 million. However, in 2001 US Judge Thomas O’Neill barred AJA from taking any action to enforce that judgment in any jurisdiction.
Mr Kelleher is best known as the backer of the Chicago Spire skyscraper project, whose construction stalled in the financial crisis.