Our most wanted man is found dead in France
IRELAND'S most wanted man has been found dead after 25 years on the run.
Criminal mastermind and fraudster Robert Stapleton (67) is responsible for a missing €22.65m and was on Britain’s Top 10 Most Wanted list by Crimestoppers UK.
He was wanted by gardai after he failed to surrender himself to be extradited to Britain, following a Supreme Court decision here in 2007.
Sources say a pedestrian found Mr Stapleton’s body on a pavement on the afternoon of Sunday, May 22, in the French town of Montfort-sur-Meu, close to the city of Rennes in Brittany.
Emergency services were unable to resuscitate him. It is understood that the man from Rathcoole in Dublin may have had a heart attack.
An old Irish driving licence was found in the fugitive’s possession and French police have since been working with gardai on the case.
Initial autopsy investigations, undertaken in Rennes on May 24 found no signs of foul play but an exact cause of death has yet to be determined.
English police claim that Stapleton, who was originally from Kilkenny, before he moved to Dublin, was involved in 30 offences where he fraudulently obtained loans of over £5m (€5.7m) for his businesses by inventing fictitious overseas contracts.
The British authorities claim he did this "to fund an extravagant lifestyle".
The IDA lost 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, 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 Stapleton never returned to the Britain to face similar charges.
Investigators claimed 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.
He did this by claiming to have won fictitious business contracts overseas for his Ultraleisure firm, which manufactured fold-away squash courts.
It is understood that Stapleton first fled to Spain where he was joined by Julia (64) but the couple returned to Ireland in 1994 and they relocated to Enniskerry, Co Wicklow.
He then set up a software company, 4th Millennium Ltd, in Dublin. The Stapletons later moved to a €2m home in Rathcoole, Co Dublin, where they were finally traced by British police in 2005. British police notified gardai who arrested him on foot of a European Arrest Warrant in September, 2005.
However, the High Court accepted Stapleton's submissions that he should not be extradited to England on the grounds that the alleged offences were too old and that he would not receive a fair trial.
In July 2007, this decision was overturned by the Supreme Court and Stapleton was ordered to surrender to custody. He failed to do so and it is understood that he fled first to Spain and then to France.
After the discovery of Stapleton's body on May 22, French police discovered he had stayed in a hostel in Rheu, 15kms from where he was found, before moving to Montfort-sur-Meu.
He was reportedly a quiet man who had very few acquaintances in the neighbourhood.
The documents found in his accommodation on the Charles de Gaulle Boulevard, suggest that he was writing a book on corruption in Britain. "The investigation is ongoing," a French police spokesman said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs told The Herald that Stapleton's family had been in contact with the French authorities.
"While the body has not been formally identified yet, the French police are working on the assumption that it is the gentleman in question," the spokesman explained.