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Belgian tax evader eyes Dublin student flats plan

Belgian tax evader eyes Dublin student flats plan

Didier De Witte, a Belgian millionaire who was this year sentenced to prison for a €1m-plus tax dodge, is behind plans for a 319-bed student accommodation scheme in Dublin.

The former chief financial officer of the Cork-based Ditchley Group, Greg McGinn, is acting as an agent for the businessman’s company in Ireland.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr McGinn conceded that De Witte is a “bit of a maverick in terms of tax structuring”, but said the Belgian had always been “honourable” in his dealings in Ireland.

De Witte is using an Irish firm called Molaga Capital to advance the student accommodation scheme, which has recently been approved for the planning process as a strategic housing development.

Mr McGinn added that De Witte is not in prison despite being sentenced in February in Belgium for tax offences.

De Witte (72) was also convicted in 2011 of collecting tens of thousands of euro in job-seeking benefits from Belgian authorities between 2005 and 2009. In lieu of an 18-month prison sentence, he paid a fine in that case. De Witte was living in the Dominican Republic at the time. Company filings in Ireland give his address as recently as 2018 as a hotel in the Dominican Republic.

His shares in Molaga Capital are listed as being held by a nominee who is employed by the Cork-based Ditchley Group. Ditchley or the Inua Partnership of which it’s a part, are not connected in any way to De Witte’s activities in Ireland, said Mr McGinn, and never have been.

Mr McGinn said he did not have any concerns working on behalf of De Witte despite his record.

“I’ve been working with Didier for 10 or 15 years in terms of Ireland,” he said. “He’s always been very honourable and direct.”

De Witte was sentenced in February to a year in prison and fined €240,000 for reportedly channelling more than €1m from what was ostensibly a non-profit firm controlled by him, to his own bank account without declaring it for income tax.

The planned student accommodation project that will be built on the South Circular Road in Dublin – the site of the former Rialto Cinema – is the largest scheme to date in Ireland for De Witte. He’s previously been involved in housing developments at Raheen in Co Limerick, as well as in Co Cork. His interests in Belgium include hotels and nursing homes.