herald

Friday 18 April 2014

He had it all. The big house, the blue chip reputation. But it was all a sham. Now his widow pays

Her husband was once a high-flyer who persuaded investors to part with millions for ambitious business schemes.

The lifestyle was enviable and home for Julia Stapleton was a sprawling Celtic-Tiger-style mansion behind granite walls and elegant iron gates.

Modern, yes -- but a lot more tasteful than what some of the newly rich choose to live in.

Of course, Robert and Julia Stapleton weren't newly rich. They'd enjoyed a good lifestyle for some time.

To neighbours and business colleagues this apparently successful, middle-aged couple must have looked like they were enjoying the fruits of a financially rewarding work life.

But by the time Robert Stapleton, by then one of Europe's most wanted men, was found dead on a footpath in France last year, all vestiges of respectability had vanished.

And in court this week, his widow Julia lost her last link with the good life. A judge ordered her to hand back her €1.5m Co Dublin home to the Bank of Scotland because of the huge arrears that had built up.

Dublin Circuit Court president Mr Justice Matthew Deery granted the bank an order for possession against Ms Stapleton, of Dun Esque, Red Gap, Rathcoole, Co Dublin, on foot of mortgage arrears of just under €1m.

There was a European Arrest Warrant in place for Robert Stapleton at the time of his death and just months before his body was found, Stapleton was placed on a list of Britain's top 10 most wanted criminals by Crimestoppers UK.

His wife was previously convicted of fraud related offences related to her husband's alleged fraud master scheme.

Barrister John Donnelly told the Circuit Civil Court that Robert and Julia had bought the house in 2005 for just under €1.5m on an interest-only mortgage from the bank.

English police alleged that Mr Stapleton was involved in 30 offences where he fraudulently obtained loans of over £5m for his businesses by inventing fictitious overseas business contracts.

English police claimed he did this "to support his companies and fund an extravagant lifestyle".

But Stapleton's suspect business dealings went back to when he was a young man in his 30s.

In fact, the IDA lost over IR£500,000 when a separate business venture involving the suspected fraudster went into receivership in 1984.

Two years after that business -- which was based in Co Wexford -- went bust, Mr Stapleton was described in a British court as the "mastermind" behind a complex export credit fraud scam in Lincolnshire.

His wife Julia received a suspended sentence in 1986 after being convicted on 20 counts of deception and false accounting for her part in the fraud.

But Mr Stapleton never returned to the UK to face similar charges.

British investigators claimed Mr Stapleton improperly formulated a scheme which allowed him to borrow from one bank while at the same time borrowing from another to pay off the first loan.

It is understood that Mr Stapleton first fled to Spain where he was joined by his wife Julia (64) but the couple returned to Ireland in 1994 where they relocated to Enniskerry, Co Wicklow.

He then set up a software company, 4th Millennium Ltd, in Dublin.

The Stapletons later moved to the plush home in Rathcoole, Co Dublin, where they were finally traced by British police in 2005.

Carol O'Brien, legal collections manager of a company which provided customer support and administration services to the Bank of Scotland, told the court that repayments became very sporadic on the Rathcoole property and none had been made since April 2008.

The court granted the bank an order for possession with legal costs and granted Julia Stapleton a stay on the court order for nine months.

hnews@herald.ie

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