The family of one of Donegal’s best-known businessmen is at war in New Zealand over his huge €300 million business empire.
Hugh Green was just 19 and penniless when he left Letterkenny in 1951 but built a huge property and construction business before he died in July, 2012 aged 80.
But now his family is at war over the cash he left behind.
His son John, 58, and daughter Frances, 52, are now at loggerheads with their sister Maryanne, 55, who claims her dad was not of sound mind when he made the will.
Shortly before his death, changes were made to the governance of the trusts and companies, with John and Frances appointed as directors and trustees of the various bodies while, Maryanne, ended her trustee and director roles.
John and Frances were appointed executors of a new will for Green that was signed in April 2012, three months before he died.
Maryanne is challenging the validity of the new will claiming her late father had diminished capacity because of his health problems.
In the Auckland High Court, she claimed before his death he could barely button his shirt, dozed off and on one occasion in a restaurant, went over to greet a couple he did not know at all.
In a courtroom battle, she alleges that her dad was improperly influenced by John and Auckland barrister Michael Fisher, who has been appointed to various directorial and trustee roles in the Green business empire.
The courtroom stand-off will undoubtedly have angered the multi-millionaire modern-day Robin Hood who gave much of his money away to charitable including many in Ireland.
He had always kept his business affairs private and insisted that the family should stick together.
In 2011 the Letterkenny-born philanthropist gave a donation of €200,000 to Letterkenny General Hospital to have a training academy built there.
The following year in January, 2012 he was named joint Donegal Person of the Year.
Green was honoured for his contribution to New Zealand society with a Papal Knighthood and also received an honorary degree from University College Galway.
In latter years Green would often return to Donegal to spend several weeks there in the summer months and showed no trappings of his huge wealth.
He drove an old jeep and would often get his wife Moira to darn his socks and mend his clothes.
Maryanne’s lawyer, Vanessa Bruton, said Maryanne had attempted to find a workable solution to the dispute despite her longstanding personal differences with John.
“The trustees have not acted properly by refusing her many attempts to get around the table and sort matters out without recourse to the courts,” she said.
Bruton said Maryanne had left her previous job to work for the family business in 1987, while John started working part-time for the business in 1989.
She said that in 1993-94, concerns arose about John’s involvement in various activities, such as alleged falsified dockets, cheques signed without company authority and large numbers of missing cattle.
“This was the subject of an investigation … which found that if John were a non-family employee he would have been fired,” Bruton told the hearing.
John then resigned as a trustee of the Hugh Green Trust and moved to Australia, she said.
Maryanne continued to work for the family business, becoming a trustee of the Hugh Green Trust, a founding trustee of the Hugh Green Charitable trust and director of the Hugh Green Group companies.
John began working for the charitable trust in 2009 after returning to New Zealand, but “historical tensions” between him and Maryanne began to emerge by late 2010, Bruton said.
Eldest son John denies sister Maryanne’s claims that her father’s mental health had failed.
He claimed “She did not come to the traditional Christmas Eve at Dad and Mum’s in 2011. I also remember she would not answer the phone or return his calls when Dad tried to ring.”
The last time Maryanne saw her dad alive was on July 11, 2012. She says in her affidavit she noticed her photograph in his bedroom was completely covered with an Irish flag.
Two months after the funeral, she was formally removed as director of the remaining companies.
Now Judge Helen Winkleman will hear closing arguments in the case next month before making her decision in the case.