BRIAN COWEN is set to join a club whose members include astronauts, actors and senior judges -- when he graduates from one of the most prestigious colleges in the US.
It's emerged that the former Taoiseach (52) is the middle of a €50,000 executive course at Stanford University in San Francisco.
The ex-Offaly politician is enjoying life in the Californian college, whose previous graduates include astronaut Sally Ride and former US Secretary of State Warren Christopher.
But the €47,000 bill is being footed by the former Finance Minister, who many still hold partly responsible for Ireland's plunge into economic abyss.
According to Mr Cowen's brother, sitting TD Barry Cowen, suggestions that the taxpayer funded the course are "completely untrue".
"He's a private person attending in a private capacity, not at the invitation or initiation of anybody else. Ultimately, it's his business what he does and where he does it," he said.
And his former close ally, ex-Laois/Offaly TD John Maloney, said: "I remember when he said he was going people saying it was an awful lot of money. My view is that he was paying for it himself... but I couldn't say that for definite."
Mr Cowen received more than €200,000 in termination when he stepped down as Taoiseach. He also receives a pension worth as much as €150,000 a year
The former Taoiseach is midway through the six-week programme and is expected to formally graduate at a ceremony later this year.
The course, called the Executive Education Programme, involves a "general management curriculum" customised "to the needs of senior executives working in global companies, government agencies, and non-profit organisations", according to the university's website.
The college boasts top-class sports facilities including tennis courts, an aquatic centre and a number of gyms.
Mr Cowen is also spoiled for choice when it comes to dining on campus.
According to the website, there is also a raft of cafes and restaurants serving "California cusine, draft beers, choice wine and dipped ice cream".
Enterprise Ireland described the course as "one of the most successful programmes we've ever had", adding that it is a hit with people looking to further their business careers.
Mr Cowen has strong connections with the college and even held talks with Stanford president Dr John Hennessy in 2010.
Dr Hennessy was also appointed "international adviser to Irish universities" by Mr Cowen.