13 Aug 2022

Ex-lovers row over horse worth an estimated €4m comes before High Court

Ex-lovers row over horse worth an estimated €4m comes before High Court

A Mexican businessman and his company has brought a High Court action against parties including his former Italian lover who he claims has moved two valuable horses that belong to him to Ireland without his permission.

The horses in question are a grey stallion called 'Milton', which has been pre-selected to represent Belgium in next year's Olympic Games, and a gelding named 'Diego', which is expected to compete in the next European Championships. 

On Thursday Ms Justice Reynolds granted temporary injunctions preventing the horses from being sold or moved out of Ireland.

The action has been brought by Italian-based Mexican businessman and horse rider Jose Alfredo Hernandez Ortega, and his Panama registered company Leeston Enterprises SA, who Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds heard, owns the horses.

The proceedings are against Mr Ortega's former partner Martina Romagnoli, who the court heard owns an operates a stud in Haras de Ligny in Belgium, and keeps horses in Co Waterford.

The action is also against XCE Heritage Ltd, Heritage of Tomorrow Ltd, Of Heritage Stud Ltd, REI of Heritage Ltd, Future of Heritage Ltd with registered addresses in Bunmahon, Co Waterford of which Ms Romagnoli is the sole director.

It is alleged that Ms Romagnoli, an Italian national, uses the companies to operate a business called Bunmahon Sporthouse Stud and Insemination Centre.

The proceedings are also against Richard Fitzgerald and Ballinasisla Stud Ltd, a company which he owns and controls. It is also alleged that Mr Fitzgerald is the secretary of Ms Romagnoli's Irish registered companies. 

Seeking the orders Bernard Dunleavy SC, instructed by solicitor Michael Kavanagh of LK Shields said the combined worth of the two horses is estimated to be €4m to €4.5m.

Counsel said Mr Ortega had left several horses temporarily at Ms Romagnoli's stud in Belgium. He had been staying there following a serious accident, to be near his and his ex-lover's son. 

However he said she asked him to leave as given their personal history being in proximity to each other proved stressful.

He said the horses remained at the stud, and he paid for their upkeep and made arrangements for somebody else to train them.

He claims that in recent weeks the horses were removed from the Belgian stud by Ms Romagnoli.

Two were moved to Ireland, while attempts were made to sell two others in Belgium without Mr Ortega's consent.

The whereabouts of three other horses he says he owns that were at the stud remains unknown.

He is not certain where in Ireland the horses are, but the court was told that Ms Romognoli and Mr Fitzgerald had been offering Miltons semen to inseminate mares for sale at the Stud in Co Waterford.

This Mr Ortega claims has also been done without his consent.

Counsel said the two horses he says are in Ireland, which he claims were sent here with a view to putting them beyond his reach, were due to be ridden in international competitions by showjumper Jerome Guery. 

Counsel said if Mr Guery, who is the number 35 ranked rider in the world, cannot train on Milton, he will not be able to participate in the Tokyo Olympics. 

Counsel said that Ms Romagnoli has asserted an interest in the horses, but no proof of ownership has been provided to his client's lawyers.

As a result it was decided to seek orders from the Irish courts. 

The interim injunction was granted, on an ex-parte basis, by Ms Justice Reynolds.

The temporary order granted by the judge which prevents the horses from being moved or sold also requires the defendants to detain and preserve any sample of semen, and the proceeds of any such samples, taken from Milton.

The defendants must also tell the applicants where the horses, or any samples of semen taken from Milton, are located.

The injunction further restrains the defendants from inseminating any other horse with Milton's semen.

Counsel said that at a later stage of the proceedings his client will ask the court for other orders including one directing that the two horses be handed over to his client.

The judge said that based on the evidence before the court an arguable case had been made out, that would allow the court grant a temporary injunction.

The matter will return before the courts next week.

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