Saturday 22 November 2014

Businessman Breifne O'Brien pleads guilty to 14 sample counts of theft and deception charges

52-year-old accused of a 'pyramid'-style €11m investment fraud

Dearbhail McDonald, Legal Editor

Published 18/06/2014 | 14:30

Briefne O’Brien
Briefne O’Brien

BUSINESSMAN Breifne O'Brien has pleaded guilty to 14 sample counts of theft and deception charges after a lengthy Supreme Court battle to have his criminal trial halted.

The 52 year old stood accused of a "pyramid" style €11m investment fraud and was due to stand trial before a jury today on some 45 theft and deception charges.

But this morning Circuit Court Judge Patricia Ryan was told that a jury would not be required in the case and the case was adjourned until 2pm to facilitate talks with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Mr O'Brien, dressed in a navy suit and white shirt, entered into the dock shortly after 2pm.

He stood with his head bowed and crossed his hands as he pleaded guilty to each of the 14 counts.

He faces up to 10 years in jail for the sample theft counts and 5 for the deception counts.

The guilty pleas were entered on a full facts basis, meaning that he is not contesting any of the facts contained in the book of evidence.

Prosecutor Luan O'Braonain SC said the sentence hearing could take up to a day as it was "a complex matter".

The DPP did not object to continuing bail.

Patrick McGrath SC, representing Mr O'Brien, said that his client was a man of no previous convictions.

Although these were very serious matters, Mr McGrath said this was "unusually" a case where court would benefit from a probation report But Judge Ryan declined to order a probation report until the sentence hearing is finalised in late July or October.

The case will come back for mention before the court next  week.

The sample counts which Mr O'Brien pleaded guilty to, including "bogus" property deals, relate to each of the five injured parties who were present in court for the brief hearing.

Mr O’Brien (51), Kilmore, The Gallan, Granitefield, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, was originally charged with 19 counts of theft involving sums totalling around€11 million from five individuals between 2006 and 2008.

Another 19 charges involve alleged deception of the same people.

A further seven charges of deception involving €1.9 million relate to one of those five people between 2003 and 2008.

Just last month the Supreme Court ruled that the trial against Mr O'Brien could proceed, despite his claims that he could not get a fair trial because of adverse publicity.

Earlier this month he separately applied for leave to bring a fresh judicial review challenge on grounds arising from a recent Supreme Court ruling concerning the rights of detained persons to have solicitors present during interviews.

But that challenge will now fall away after Mr O'Brien's guilty pleas.

Last month a three-judge Supreme Court ruled the trial against Mr O'Brien could proceed at any time after June 2014.

The court accepted there had been unsatisfactory publicity in relation to the matter and it also said certain remarks about the case by High Court judge, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, were “not wise comments”.

However, the Chief Justice, Ms Justice Susan Denham, said the court was satisfied, on various grounds, Mr O’Brien had not shown there was, at this point in time, a real risk of an unfair trial.

She said years had passed since the bulk of the publicity and the “fade factor” applied.

The remarks by Mr Justice Kelly were also made in civil proceedings where Mr O’Brien had not opposed applications by his creditors, she said.

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