The High Court has ruled that a lady's diamond-encrusted Rolex watch and Volkswagen Passat belonging to an Athy couple were bought with the proceeds of crime.
Jerry Knee and Ann-Marie Cassidy, both 30 and from Athy, Co Kildare, appeared before Mr Justice Alexander Owens today and represented themselves after their barrister Desmond Hayes discharged himself.
The two items were seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau on May 29th, 2018 and Mr Justice Owens today, Tuesday, appointed the chief legal officer of CAB to receive the items.
Mr Hayes discharged himself after Mr Justice Owens rejected the couple's application for legal aid. The barrister had explained to the judge that his instructions were to step down if the couple's application for legal aid was refused.
The court heard that Mr Knee has previous convictions for burglary and trespassing. His wife, Ms Cassidy, the court heard, has no previous convictions.
David Dodd BL, for the Criminal Assets Bureau, told the court that CAB was objecting to the legal aid application.
He gave details of several cash lodgements and explained that €43,000 in cash lodgements had been made in a period of time up to 2018.
He said some people who seek legal aid come to court with no cash lodgements.
"We've a lady who's wearing a diamond-encrusted Rolex watch and we say that's inconsistent with a person who is on the lowest rung of the ladder", in reference to financial means, Mr Dodd said.
He said one cash lodgement amounted to €5,000 and said it would take a school teacher around two months to raise such an amount for lodgement.
Mr Dodd also said that Detective Garda Emer McKenna, in an affidavit, stated that Mr Knee said that the cash he used to buy the Volkswagen Passat was sourced from savings and social welfare payments.
The barrister said: "Mr Knee is buying a car for €9,200 in cash. He says he got it in savings. But, on the other hand, he says he can't pay for a solicitor."
The judge asked Mr Dodd about the policy of the court and if he were to accept the affidavits of CAB, "are they [the couple] supposed to use hot money to pay their solicitor?"
Mr Dodd told the judge that he is supposed to focus on "means" and said "you don't have to get into the undergrowth".
The barrister added that, according to the couple's own evidence, in their own affidavits, they were in the position to buy three cars in 2016, put up bail for friends and loan money to friends.
Mr Hayes told the judge that the diamonds in the Rolex watch were "aftermarket" diamonds and that CAB had not indicated whether the watch was supposed to be old or new.
The judge previously said he understands what "aftermarket" means - that diamonds were later added. He said this suggests it was a secondhand watch.
Mr Justice Owens said he himself once bought a "basic model" Rolex watch for his wife which "took me ages to buy".
Mr Hayes said that the couple wrote in their affidavits that just over €2,000 was paid for the watch while CAB placed a value of more than €4,000 on the watch.
He also said since the car was seized in 2018, the couple haven't been able to trade up or down.
He said both Mr Knee and Ms Cassidy are unemployed, in receipt of social welfare and said they have limited education, adding that these were "exceptional circumstances".
Asked by the judge how the couple arrived in court today and if they had a car, Mr Hayes said he didn't know.
Mr Justice Owens subsequently rejected the legal aid application and Mr Knee and Ms Cassidy went before the judge.
Mr Knee told the judge that he had never been to school and that he cannot read. Ms Cassidy said she left school in sixth class and can read a "small bit".
Mr Knee asked for an adjournment. However, the judge refused.
When asked for further explanation for his source of cash, Mr Knee said that he has been buying and selling horses his whole life and said he doesn't drink or smoke.
Mr Justice Owens said there were no details about any horses in their affidavits and said he had not heard anything about horses until today, before concluding that he's satisfied that the two items were purchased with the proceeds of crime.
He said he didn't come to the decision "lightly".
Mr Knee left the courtroom after this ruling while Ms Cassidy stayed.
The judge told Ms Cassidy that she can appeal his ruling if they wish.
"It's no skin off my nose," he said.