herald

Monday 23 October 2017

From Celtic Tiger poster boy to Prisoner 94046

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Breifne O'Brien leaving court in Dublin recently. Photo: Courtpix

CELTIC Tiger poster boy and fraudster Breifne O'Brien is today waking up in Dublin's Mountjoy Prison.

It is a far cry from the parties of the boom times. Ireland's most famous white collar criminal will rub shoulders with some of the country's most ruthless killers and drug dealers.

Prisoner number 94046 is in a cell in C Base in the building's renovated former dungeons.

O'Brien has been jailed for seven years for running a Ponzi scheme which cost his victims millions.

He convinced family, business associates and long-standing friends that he was linked to property deals in Paris, Manchester and Hamburg and a shipping insurance scheme. The deals were all bogus.

He used the stolen cash to pay for an extension to his house, a new car for his wife and the stamp duty on new properties.

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O'Brien (52), of Kilmore, Monkstown Grove, Co Dublin, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 14 sample counts out of a total of 45 theft and deception charges at National Irish Bank and Ulster Bank, Donnybrook, Dublin, on dates between 2003 and 2008.

O'Brien had initially denied all charges and took a High Court case to try to stop his trial proceeding on the basis of adverse publicity.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court which ultimately ruled against him. He later changed his plea to guilty on the day his trial was due to start.

The court heard that the total loss to the five victims is €8.5m and that O'Brien owes further amounts to other creditors.

Shane Costelloe, prosecuting, said that so far €420,000 has been recovered through the release of assets owned by O'Brien, but that none of this is available to the victims.

Counsel for O'Brien said he has already transferred his entitlement to £1,065,000 worth of shares in a UK computer gaming company to the creditors group, but these shares have not yet been realised.

He has also signed documents in relation to other loan notes and investments and has been in early discussions with a group of investors with regard to other foreign properties.

Mr Costelloe said that even if every euro set out in a "highly speculative" schedule of assets presented by O'Brien was realised, it would have to be divided between the victims in this case and a larger group of creditors.

Judge Patricia Ryan said the central lie in the case was that the money given to O'Brien was not retained in his deposit account but was instead used for a myriad of purposes.

She imposed a sentence of three-and-a-half years for the deception offences and a concurrent sentence of seven years for the thefts.

At the sentence hearing last July, lawyers for the fraudster said he is now destitute and living on social welfare of €188 a week.

Patrick McGrath SC, defending, said O'Brien was previously described as the "poster boy for the worst excesses of the Celtic Tiger", "Ireland's Bernie Madoff" and a "high society conman" who is now shunned and socially ruined.

O'Brien told investors that the money would be left sitting in a deposit account in order to demonstrate that he had the financial clout to purchase investment properties and allow him to procure exclusive options on the properties.

He told them he would flip these deals on for profit and split the proceeds with the investor. Det Sgt Martin Griffin told the court this was all a lie. The money was used for a myriad of other purposes instead of being held on deposit.

Some of it would be used to pay back other investors who had advanced money to O'Brien, a process the detective described as "grooming". He said: "This is absolutely quintessentially characteristic of a Ponzi scheme."

The first victim was farmer Louis Dowley, of Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary, who was conned out of €6.95m.

hnews@herald.ie

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