Irish News

Friday 25 July 2014

Bankrupt builder who owed €1bn back living in his former home

Kim Bielenberg

Published 29/09/2012|05:00

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John Fleming
John Fleming's former house at Butlerstown

A TOP Irish developer who went bankrupt two years ago is living back in his former home in west Cork at weekends after his son-in-law bought back the property.

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John Fleming looks set to become the first major Irish developer to make a dramatic recovery after writing off massive personal debts. His property empire collapsed in 2010 owing €1bn.

Mr Fleming, once one of Ireland's top builders and a prominent supporter of Fianna Fail, led the way two years ago when he went bankrupt in Britain.

The one-time property baron was discharged from this bankruptcy last November after just a year. Under Irish law he would have had to wait up to 12 years.

An investigation by the Irish Independent has revealed that Mr Fleming now lives back in his former home in West Cork, when he is in Ireland after his son-in-law bought the house.

Mr Fleming has been seen regularly at his former home near Butlerstown in recent months. A son-in-law, John O'Brien, is thought to have bought the home back into the family by paying €250,000 for the house and six acres of land near Bandon.

Mr O'Brien is married to John Fleming's daughter Linda.

According to a local property valuer, at the peak of the boom the property would have been worth over €600,000.

Mr Fleming, who now works as a property consultant in London, has also attended meetings at the offices of his former property company in Bandon.

The field behind his family home near Butlerstown is a hive of activity, with lorries coming and going. Building materials are stored there.

The builder's construction business, based in Bandon, was acquired by a new company, Donban, in March 2010. The chief executive of the company is Mr Fleming's former foreman Christy Hayes. A local solicitor Veronica Collins is listed as the only shareholder.

Donban now occupies Mr Fleming's former headquarters in Bandon, but the Fleming name is still emblazoned across the reception area.

A receptionist there told the Irish Independent that Mr Fleming came in occasionally for "consultancy meetings".

Liquidation

As part of his liquidation settlement, the Fleming family agreed to sell the developer's home and land. The proceeds were to go to creditors.

A liquidator's report on the wind-up of the Fleming companies show the "principal private residence'' in Co Cork was sold for €250,000.

Land-registry records show that Mr Fleming's house was bought by John O'Brien, who is now his son-in-law. He used to work for the Fleming group, and is now a quantity surveyor at Sisk.

Mr O'Brien married Linda Fleming, one of the developer's five daughters, in recent weeks and the couple had their reception at the Inchydoney Island Hotel in Clonakilty.

The Fleming home was registered in Mr O'Brien's name in February 2011.

Mr O'Brien's father, local farmer Pad-Joe O'Brien, was unaware that his son had bought the house when the Irish Independent spoke to him.

Although Mr Fleming is still admired for providing employment in the area and his contribution to local causes, some local creditors are furious that their bills went unpaid while the developer is now free to do business. There are a number of local reports of him being confronted by angry creditors.

One neighbour said: "There was a feeling that he was re-arranging the deckchairs as the ship went down."

Mr Fleming's daughter Linda and John O'Brien recently built an ostentatious 3,000sqft four-bedroom mansion on a hill overlooking Courtmacsherry on Mr O'Brien's family farm.

In his heyday Mr Fleming employed 2,000 people -- from building housing estates to owning hotels and running windfarms -- and by the end of the boom his wealth was estimated at €138m.

Steve Thatcher, a financial consultant who advises Irish clients on British bankruptcy, said: "Now that he has been discharged from bankruptcy, he is free to go into business again and work as a company director. "A lot of other Irish developers must be kicking themselves they did not do this sooner."

Mr Fleming may not be out of the woods, however. Louise Brittain of Deloitte has been investigating his earnings over recent months on behalf of NAMA and other creditors as a "trustee in bankruptcy".

She has made a court application for an income payments order, forcing him to hand over any excess income above his living expenses. She also hopes to seize his Irish pension on behalf of creditors.

During the period of his bankruptcy, Mr Fleming was living modestly in a rented house in Billericay in Essex with his wife Noreen. Earlier, for a time the couple lived in another English home in Bicester.

Since he was discharged from bankruptcy, Mr Fleming has moved again. Neighbours in Billericay believe the Flemings moved in June, 20 miles away to the upmarket suburb of South Woodford on the edge of London. However, they spend many weekends in Cork.

While JJ Fleming Holdings went into liquidation two years ago, the family name lives on in JJ Fleming (Bandon), a construction company set up in 2009. Three of the ex-tycoon's daughters -- Elaine, Linda, and Claire -- are directors of the firm.

Irish Independent

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