IRISH EXECUTIVE Richard O’Halloran has been told by Shanghai police that he must pay a $36m (€30m) “corporate ransom” to leave China.
O’Halloran has been denied permission to return home for almost two years due to an ongoing legal dispute involving a Chinese shareholder of the Dublin aviation-leasing company he works for.
The husband and father-of-four from Foxrock was informed during a police interrogation that his exit ban had been lifted.
Yet, after booking a flight leaving from Shanghai that day, he was later prevented from boarding it.
Chinese authorities have rebuffed attempts by the Irish embassy to attend O’Halloran’s court hearings and police interrogations, the latest of which was last Tuesday.
David Maughan, a partner at law firm William Fry who are representing O'Halloran, described his predicament as “fundamentally wrong on many levels”.
The acting management of CALS, the Dublin firm where Mr O’Halloran is also a director, wired $200,000 (€165,000) to the Chinese court in a good-faith attempt to secure the Irishman’s right to fly home.
O’Halloran was later interrogated – without a lawyer – for six hours in relation to the funds.
"It was a phenomenally scary piece of interrogation. During it they demanded he pay $6m personally to the court in order to assist with his freedom," Maughan told the Irish Independent.
Chinese authorities later demanded that the Irishman cough up the eye-watering sum of $36m after telling him his travel ban had been lifted.
"This was the first he'd been told of this. Richard immediately booked a flight to come home that evening, January 10. But when he went to the airport he was denied access to board the aircraft with no legal grounds whatsoever," said Maughan.
O'Halloran has been stranded in China since being denied entry onto a flight home almost two years ago.
He suffers from a serious lung condition and has twice been admitted to hospital in the smog-filled Chinese city "due to stress-related issues and other consequences of his detention" – the last time being over Christmas 2020.
Two days after his last stay in hospital he was summoned to court by presiding Judge Liu to appear as a witness in the case of CALS chairman Min Jiedong.
“She confirmed that there was no exit ban in place but told him that he would be in China for ‘a very, very long time’. Richard now fears that the judge intends to force him to remain in the country to manage the sale of an aircraft in five years’ time when its lease runs out,” said Maughan.
Chinese authorities have violated the Irishman’s basic legal rights by demanding cash in return for the right to leave the country, Mr Maughan said.
“I wrote to the Chinese ambassador and to Minister Coveney offering a number of solutions. Unfortunately, neither the ambassador nor the Minister have engaged with us on those solutions, which is very demoralising for Richard.”
President Michael D. Higgins wrote to his counterpart, Chinese President Xi Jinping, over Christmas highlighting the issue and urging a prompt resolution. Mr Xi’s reply, received last Friday, indicated that “the relevant authorities on both sides may maintain communication and co-ordination to create conditions for an early and proper solution to the case”.
From February 26th, it will be two years since Mr O’Halloran has seen his family.