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Richard O'Halloran

I first ran into Richard O’Halloran when he attended one of my political fundraisers when I was a TD more than 10 years ago. This was not out of any political allegiance - he was dutifully attending with his wife Tara who was a very close friend of my PA at that time. A few years later, we were both coaches of under-age rugby at Stradbrook in Blackrock.

He is one of those acquaintances that you see around the place without really getting to know.

So when I saw his picture in the paper last year I immediately recognised him and made the connection.

He was in the paper because the Chinese authorities had imposed an exit ban on him because of an investment dispute involving aircraft leasing. The reason for this is fairly complicated.

The bones of the issue is that Richard is the COO of China Aviation Leasing Services (CALS) which is a subsidiary of CALS Shanghai. CALS Shanghai was investigated in China for illegal crowdfunding and Richard travelled over in February 2019 to see if he could assist in what to do with the company.

After meeting with the company in Shanghai, he was stopped at passport control because of a 90 day exit ban - he has been there ever since. He was questioned without legal representation.

The Department of Foreign Affairs worked on the case but it dragged out throughout 2019 and 2020. Richard made every effort to assist the authorities with their investigation.

The chair of CALS Shanghai has now been jailed and all avenues of appeal have come to an end. That case is closed and there is nothing more that Richard can do.

So now Richard, who is not under investigation or charged with a crime, is experiencing the torture of being denied his liberty without knowing why.

There have been further engagements with what are called ‘Enforcement Judges’ in recent weeks but again without proper legal representation or consular assistance. The Chinese authorities are trying to get him to sign documents that say he is guilty of embezzlement and fraud.

Beyond the legal problems, Richard has serious health problems which have deteriorated over the last two years, including four seizures. He would have no chance of surviving Covid. Mentally, he has had many low ebbs and for two months did not answer the phone to his family. He probably has PTSD, according to his family.

I spoke to Richard last week to discuss his case. He sounded in reasonably good form. It is hard not be emotional about the situation he is in, not having seen his kids in two years. There are four children, the eldest 14.

Richard’s wife Tara has been heroically trying to raise awareness of the case at every opportunity.

For my part, I have raised the case regularly at European Parliament level including a resolution last month on China’s human rights record. In December, the EU signed what is called the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), a trade agreement with China. It has its merits in terms of opening markets for EU companies. However, serious questions about this have been raised by many because of the treatment of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists and forced labour in Xinxiang.

Because I am on the Trade committee in the European Parliament, I will have regular opportunities to raise the issue as the agreement is considered for ratification.

What else can the Government do? Simon Coveney should get on a plane and make more of an issue of this. There is nothing to stop him doing that. The deployment of national assets that occurred when an Irish humanitarian aid worker was detained in Darfur in 2009 was enormous and very much in advance of what is the case here. I acknowledge the complexity of the case but I hope there won’t be regrets.

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