Fraudster Breifne O’Brien lived the high life on stolen cash

Not many people convert their back garden into a continental speakeasy to celebrate their child’s christening, but then not many have lived a life like Breifne O’Brien.

Fraudster Breifne O’Brien lived the high life on stolen cash

In June 2005, O’Brien and his wife Fiona Nagle hosted 200 people in a marquee at their home in leafy Glenageary, to toast the baptism of son Oscar.

Guests included then education minister Mary Hanafin, RTÉ’s Marty Whelan, VIP publisher Michael O’Doherty and other familiar faces from Dublin’s social scene.

Caterers supplied sushi and Mediterranean cuisine while guests danced to the beats of Latin American music as the band played into the night.

What is now known, however, is the opulent display that characterised the socialite businessman’s Celtic Tiger lifestyle had been built on the deception of clients and a multimillion euro pyramid scheme.

At his first sentencing hearing last July, O’Brien’s lawyers said their client was socially ruined and characterised as the “poster boy for the worst excesses of the Celtic Tiger”.

O’Brien once handled millions of euro, robbing Peter to pay Paul to maintain the illusion of a successful, savvy, businessman.

The son of Cork businessman Leo O’Brien and brother of sports broadcaster Daire O’Brien, he graduated from Trinity College in the mid-1980s.

His first victim was Louis Dowley, a Tipperary farmer who O’Brien knew through his wife, a college friend of O’Brien’s.

O’Brien conned Mr Dowley for €6.95m, duping him into a property investment scheme in Manchester and an insurance shipping venture.

O’Brien faked an email from an Italian shipping merchant who he had met briefly during a New Year’s Eve party in Dubai and also faked an email from a Monaco-based lawyer.

In July 2006, Mr Dowley lodged €1m into a bank account for the shipping venture. Within two days, O’Brien had transferred €19,000 to one of his companies, used €874,134 for stamp duty on a property in Cork city, €219,024 for purchase of another property and €61,000 to buy an Audi Q7 car for his wife.

The other victims named in the charges were Martin O’Brien of Naas, Co Kildare; Pat Doyle, Evan Newall, and Daniel Maher all from Dublin.

He deceived Mr Doyle and Mr O’Brien of €500,000; Mr Newall of a total of €3m, and Mr Maher of €450,000.

The ruse came to a head in late 2008, when O’Brien was forced to admit to his victims their money was gone.

He had flown to New York to visit Bernard Lambilliotte — a Belgian financier and O’Brien’s brother-in-law — to come clean about his losses and to ask for help. Lambilliotte refused and O’Brien subsequently called a meeting of some of his creditors, where solicitor Brian Quigley claimed O’Brien said it was “easy to pull the suckers in while the economy was booming”, a comment O’Brien denies making.

O’Brien’s assets were frozen and judgements amounting to almost €14m were made against him.

Fiona Nagle, who knew nothing of her husband’s deceptions, made headlines in January 2009 when she applied to the courts to vary the freezing order to allow her €4,000-a-week living expenses, an application she later withdrew when Justice Peter Kelly refused to hear it in private. The couple separated in the aftermath of the revelations surrounding O’Brien.

Anglo Irish Bank was granted leave in the Commercial Court in November of 2009 to sell properties and assets worth €11m belonging to O’Brien which included apartments in Paris and Reading, a house in Monkstown, Co Dublin, a car showroom in Munich, and a share in an investment fund linked to a Boston property development.

In July 2011, gardaí arrested O’Brien and charged him under section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984.

More in this section