WARNING: This story contains descriptions of domestic violence.
During an alcohol-fuelled night out celebrating his engagement in 2019 in Auckland’s Viaduct, former All Black Byron Kelleher allegedly publicly strangled his new fiancée after throwing a drink over her.
It is one of many instances that former flight attendant Yuliana Desta is claiming occurred during her two-year-long relationship with Kelleher; others involved attempted suffocation, several black eyes and being bruised all over her body.
She said she was now speaking to the Herald about her relationship with the 57-test halfback after new accusations of domestic violence were reported earlier this week by French newspaper Le Parisien relating to another woman.
Kelleher appeared in a French court this week after his former partner, a woman in France, claimed he was “verbally and physically violent” in 2015 after she gave birth to their son and ended the relationship. After returning to France in 2022 to reconnect with his son, she claims the abuse continued.
Kelleher has previously faced court for assault and wilful damage in 2020 after a scuffle with the father of Desta’s son.
In 2017, Kelleher was also found guilty of domestic violence in France. At the time he was accused of causing damage to the front door where he lived while intoxicated and attacking his then-partner. His lawyer described the incident as a “lovers’ quarrel” and Kelleher was fined $300.
The former Highlanders and Toulouse player was also briefly taken into custody in October 2013 for “driving while intoxicated” in Bordeaux and also dealt with French police in 2009 following a brawl that occurred in Toulouse after a collision while driving drunk.
The Herald has sought comment from Kelleher about the Destas and his latest court case.
Desta said she had considered laying complaints over the alleged Viaduct assault but claims while she remained silent for three years, she was “going through a hell of a trauma” at the hands of Kelleher.
Former All Black Byron Kelleher with ex-partner Yuliana Desta.
The abuse, Desta claimed, began three months after the couple met at a bar in Bali in August 2018.
In the beginning, the former flight attendant said Kelleher was “fun, adventurous, and really romantic”.
“Unfortunately, with his drinking habit, once he was drunk he completely changed to a different person,” she claimed.
Desta said the scariest incident occurred in May 2019, when she allegedly arrived back to the Bali villa they lived in together to find him in bed with another woman.
Kelleher, Desta claimed, pushed her into a rice field outside the villa as she attempted to film him, before allegedly punching her in the face and forehead.
Yuliana Desta's bloodied fingers after an alleged incident with Kelleher in Bali.
She reported the incident to the Bali police, but Kelleher allegedly left for New Zealand before the police could talk to him.
Desta said she then severed contact for a month with the former rugby star following the alleged assault before he came back begging to join her in Europe.
“Then he reached back out, he told me how much he loved me, how much he wanted to come back and see me in France,” Desta said.
Bruises on Desta's arms after another alleged fight with Kelleher.
Another police report was filed in Barcelona in 2019, Desta said. Kelleher allegedly attempted to suffocate her with a pillow before giving her two back eyes following another disagreement over his drinking and partying.
He was arrested and spent two days in custody, but no charges were filed after Desta withdrew her allegations.
Desta claimed she was “stuck in a cycle of abuse” and often blamed herself for the violence. She said she did not leave or speak out because she felt “embarrassment” and the respect she had for his parents who, she says, begged her not to press charges or leave him.
Bruising to Desta's face and a black eye after an alleged incident with Kelleher in Barcelona in 2019.
The last alleged incident occurred on the Auckland Viaduct in 2019, during the combined celebration of the pair’s birthdays and their recent engagement.
Kelleher live-streamed his elaborate proposal on Facebook where he used a diver holding signs at an aquarium restaurant in Bali. He had been sober for three months and had sought counselling, Desta said, and she was “so proud of him”.
Desta alleged during the Viaduct incident that Kelleher strangled her from behind on a public street.
She said she told Kelleher since their break-up that she would stay silent out of respect for his parents, but if he allegedly abused another woman she would speak out.
Bruising to Desta's face and a black eye after a fight with Kelleher in Barcelona in 2019.
How to get help:
If you're in danger now:
• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours or friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people. Scream for help so your neighbours can hear you.
• Take the children with you. Don't stop to get anything else.
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay.
Where to go for help or more information:
• Women's Refuge: Crisis line - 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843 (available 24/7)
• Shine: Helpline - 0508 744 633 (available 24/7)
• It's Not Ok: Family violence information line - 0800 456 450
• Shakti: Specialist services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and children.
• Crisis line - 0800 742 584 (available 24/7)
• Ministry of Justice: For information on family violence
• Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga: National Network of Family Violence Services
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women.
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Rachel Maher is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. She has worked for the Herald since 2022.
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