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Thursday 14 December 2017

Michael O'Doherty: Breifne's a shameless chancer ... but so too were his Anglo bankers

Breifne O'Brien
Breifne O'Brien

While most of Ireland was celebrating the joys of love last weekend, Breifne O'Brien was staring at the wall of his Mountjoy cell, four months into a seven-year sentence, with thoughts of amorous advances hardly likely to have lightened his mood.

Ireland's most notorious fraudster had a day out last week, however, as he was back in court to try and stop IBRC - formerly known as Anglo Irish Bank - from obtaining summary judgement against him for the €16.2m he owes it.

O'Brien had turned up in order to opposite the bank's application, and put forward various defences including a claim that the bank had been guilty of reckless lending in advancing him the sum in the first place.

swindling

The High Court judge found against O'Brien on all counts, though one suspects it will be little more than a token victory for IBRC, who have little chance of recouping the majority of the €16.2m, invested into properties now worth a fraction of what Breifne paid for them.

And without defending in any way the shameless, criminal nature of O'Brien's conduct - which involved brazenly swindling friends and associates out of millions in order to fund his lifestyle - it is perhaps an appropriate time to consider the involvement of Anglo Irish Bank themselves.

O'Brien's attempt to make an accusation of reckless lending stick was doomed from the start, as it has been explicitly rejected by Irish courts as a cause of action several times before.

But on the basis that it is the taxpayer who is picking up the cost of Anglo Irish Bank's "bad bargains", it is perhaps worth focusing this time not on what Breifne did with the millions, but how he came to be in possession of such sums in the first place.

On three separate occasions, in 2002, 2004 and 2006, Breifne O'Brien - a man who ran a small taxi firm in Blackrock, and indulged in a bit of investment advice on the side, for which he had no training whatsoever - went to Anglo Irish Bank to ask for multi-million euro loans.

You would have thought that a bank would laugh at such cheek.

But not Anglo. Instead, they handed over the cash with an indecent haste that simply beggars belief.

These were the Celtic Tiger years, a time when financial institutions - Anglo Irish and Irish Nationwide being the worst offenders - handed out vast sums, often to friends and cronies, with the most flimsy of guarantees that the monies would ever be paid back.

reckless

Testosterone-fuelled half-wits would get then high on the deals, basking in being a 'player', while the equally dim-witted recipients of their largesse, like Breifne O'Brien, tried to get rich quick.

So it would be nice to think that lessons have been learned, and that trust-fund kids, glorified salesmen and shameless chancers will never again be given the time of day by banks.

Legally, Anglo Irish Bank are not responsible for reckless lending.

Morally however, in terms of how to run a business, their behaviour was as shocking as that of Breifne himself...

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