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Wednesday 31 May 2023 Dublin: 16°C
Mark Stedman via Photocall Ireland
# Boom to Bust
Who is Breifne O'Brien? Corkman, charlatan, Celtic Tiger conman...
Find out more about the man who encapsulated the Celtic Tiger with his fall from grace.

BREIFNE O’BRIEN HAS been jailed for seven years today for duping his friends and associates out of millions of euro during the boom.

So how did the Corkman become known as the “Ireland’s Bernie Madoff”?

His lavish lifestyle was well documented in Dublin’s social pages with photos of his wedding to Fiona Nagle showing the pair smiling to their 300 guests – O’Brien choosing a white suit with a red tie for the big day.

Where did he come from?

He left Trinity College in the late 1980s – where he made the friends that he would later con out of millions.

O’Brien started out in business by running a laundrette in Rathmines; he then tried a diner but that didn’t last long – it went bust a year after it opened in 1993.

It wasn’t long before the businessman found property. He became an ‘investment adviser’. He would give clients ‘exclusive rights’ to buy or sell properties within a set time at a set price.

Seven years ago, the Irish Independent reported that O’Brien and his then wife Fiona enjoyed a Christmas break at the only seven-star hotel in the world. He now looks forward to the next seven behind bars.

In December of 2008 – one year after that expensive trip to Dubai – O’Brien’s elaborate pyramid scheme unravelled.

Dearbhail McDonald’s book, Bust, describes how it was the end of a glittering life when the fraud squad raided the family home taking his art collection and Aston Martin to the Sheriff.

How did it all go wrong?

GoogleMaps GoogleMaps

The 52 year old, originally from a large ancestral pile called Carrigrohane Castle in Cork (pictured above) but living in Monkstown Grove, Dublin, deceived and stole €8.5 million from five investors between 2003 and 2008.

He ran a classic pyramid scheme, convincing people he knew to put down large deposits for business ventures that didn’t exist.

He deceived them into believing that he was linked to property schemes in Paris, Manchester and Hamburg and a shipping insurance scheme – but it was all lies.

He used the money to fund his lifestyle and pay for investment properties abroad, an extension to his home and a new car for his then wife.

At one stage he had 83 bank accounts in his own name, or run through various companies.

The Ponzi scheme ran for almost 15 years before it all came crashing down leaving O’Brien in the position he finds himself today – divorced, with limited access to his children and looking at the next 7 years in a cell.

Who did he deceive?

O’Brien’s victims were his friends, people he knew from his time studying economics in Trinity and people who were part of his social circle.

They went to each other’s weddings and christenings and even holidayed together.

O’Brien admitted that he would invent the bogus deals, get money from an investor and when the time came to pay the investor – he would convince them to reinvest in yet another made-up deal.

If he couldn’t convince them – he would just find somebody else who was willing to invest and pay them off with that cash.

He told Brian Quigley, a solicitor who represented many investors, that:

It was easy to pull the suckers in when things were booming.

90350612 Sam Boal Sam Boal

He pleaded guilty to 14 sample counts out of a total of 45 theft and deception charges between 2003 and 2008, at Dublin Circuit Court last June.

Of the €8.5 million stolen by Breifne O’Brien only €420,000 has been recovered so far and he owes further amounts to other creditors.

The five victims were-

  • Louis Dowley, Tipperary (€4 million)
  • Evan Newall, Dublin (€3 million),
  • Martin O’Brien of Naas, Co Kildare, (€500,000)
  • Pat Doyle, Dublin (€500,000)
  • Daniel Maher of Foxrock, Co Dublin (€450,000)

He has now signed documents to help creditors recoup money from any of his remaining assets but the court heard today that his five victims are unlikely to see any benefit.

The businessman has received three and a half years for the deception charges and seven years for the theft charges.

A week before what is expected to be a modest Budget 2015 announcement, the conclusion to the tale of Breifne O’Brien mirrors the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger. He lived beyond his means and didn’t think to the future… but now, finally, it has caught up with him.

Read: Businessman Breifne O’Brien jailed for 7 years for theft and deception>

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