EXCLUSIVE. ON-THE-RUN DEVELOPER HIDING OUT IN SOUTH OF FRANCE, and nobody in Ireland gives a Hoot Why
Posted on 26 July 2015.
Investigations Editor in Nice
THIS is the fugitive Nama developer John Shee strolling down the street in his luxury French Riviera hideout of Nice. A warrant for his arrest was issued in January 2014 after he failed to disclose his assets to Nama on foot of a court order to do so.
Despite Garda searches and an entry and exit alert at all ports, the authorities have so far failed to locate Mr Shee.
But this week the Irish Mail on Sunday tracked him down to an exclusive residential street in the centre of Nice where he is living with his wife Mary who alternates between the family home in Limerick and the French retreat.
The developer made a statement, which is printed in full below, but when first approached he declined to comment and maintained a stony silence for a full 10 minutes as he walked down the street, crossed the road and doubled back on himself before standing completely silent at a tram stop.
He eventually agreed to think about speaking and nominated a time for the following day and a rendezvous point in the basement of a local shopping centre.
‘If I’m there, I’m there. If not, you’ll know I won’t speak,’ he said, accepting a list of questions about why he went on the run and why he is not paying back his debts.
Although his lifestyle in Nice is extremely comfortable, Mr Shee is very much in hiding and appears determined to attract as little attention to himself as possible.
He refuses to use mobile phones or email and never ventured more than five minutes’ walk from his home during the week the MoS observed him. When he did venture out, he always had a baseball cap and dark sunglasses with him.
Despite the heat, he avoids sitting out on the balcony of his apartment where the curtains are always drawn.
He arrived at our meeting point the following morning via back streets but only after he had scoped out the location by circling the shopping centre before approaching the café and sitting down.
After insisting that batteries be removed from phones he agreed to speak off the record and unfolded a handwritten list of more than a dozen points he wanted to address.
One of Mr Shee’s central concerns – apart from the implications of the MoS story for his wife – was that the precise number of his apartment not be disclosed as this would lead to people seeking to serve summons on him.
He was also anxious to express that he does not feel he is living a life of luxury and says he will return to Ireland to face the Judge who issued his arrest warrant.
Eventually after more than an hour and a half, Mr Shee agreed to make a statement containing some of the points addressed.
In it he said he had transferred his assets to his wife Mary as he was ill with cancer and ‘feared the worst’. ‘Despite the way it looks,’ he said, ‘I’m living a modest lifestyle and will probably have to bankrupt in due course.’
He also said: ‘I do intend to come back when I’m fully recovered.’ Mr Shee first moved to divest his assets in 2009, when he transferred the family home in Limerick and several apartments to wife Mary.
When questioned by gardaí last year relatives of Mr Shee – including his wife – declined to reveal his whereabouts.
The couple are living in a first floor apartment on the sought-after Boulevard Victor Hugo, which overlooks a garden of palm trees adjacent to the renowned five-star Boscolo Exedra Hotel.
Council records confirm that the apartment, estimated to be worth in the region of €500,000, is owned by John and Mary Shee.
It is a short walk from Nice’s famous beach and old town, though for the most part Mr Shee prefers to lie low in his apartment. He emerges only once or twice a day to run brief errands on foot to the local bottle bank, supermarket and chemist, sometimes with a pullalong shopping trolley.
At one point on Tuesday he accompanied his wife on a shoe-buying trip and a stroll down a street of designer boutiques. However, he left her to continue to the city’s busier tourist area alone while he doubled back to their apartment.
The couple’s Riviera lifestyle is funded thanks to millions being made by Ireland’s largest nursing home chain, Mowlam Healthcare Ltd, which Mr Shee co-founded a decade and a half ago with his business partner Joe Hanrahan.
Though Mowlam continues to be profitable, Mr Shee and Mr Hanrahan oversaw a string of failed construction firms which owe more than €50m to Nama and a series of banks.
At the last hearing into the matter in February 2014, Judge Peter Kelly said there appeared to be a kind of ‘conspiracy of silence’ concerning Mr Shee’s whereabouts.
However, instead of trying to repay his Nama loans with the nursing home income – much of which is funded by the taxpayer through the Fair Deal nursing homes support scheme – Mr Shee transferred his stake in Mowlam to his wife in 2011. Mr Hanrahan also transferred his stake to his wife Vivienne.
That year the firm – which owns 23 nursing homes in 14 counties and cares for more than 1,200 residents – had income of over €30m and posted pre-tax profits of €2.5m.
The accounts of the nursing home group are now secret since the company re-registered as unlimited in 2012 and moved its ownership to the British Virgin Islands.
In the past Mrs Shee has declined to answer MoS questions about the whereabouts of her husband and the millions being channelled to her from Mowlam Healthcare.
A €24m judgment was obtained against the pair of developers in March 2011 after they failed to make repayments on AIB loans which were later taken into Nama.
The order to arrest Mr Shee was issued after he failed to provide a statement of affairs to Nama by January 6 last year. At the last hearing into the matter, Judge Kelly said it appeared there was very little more gardaí could do but he directed them to continue efforts to find and arrest Mr Shee.