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Byrne may be first of 'rogue solicitors' to face charges

STRUCK-OFF solicitor Thomas Byrne may become one of the first "rogue solicitors" to be prosecuted in the courts after the collapse of the Celtic Tiger.

The Irish Independent has learnt that a garda file on Mr Byrne has been reviewed by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

This paves the way for the DPP to direct, following consideration of potential charges, whether a prosecution should proceed. Legal experts say a prosecution is "all but inevitable" following a series of admissions by Mr Byrne.

Four years ago, solicitors Michael Lynn and Mr Byrne became household names when they plunged the legal profession into disgrace.

They were struck off the solicitors' roll in 2008 by order of the High Court after it emerged that they abused the system of solicitors' undertakings to draw down multiple mortgages.

Both men, who between them owe more than €140m to Irish and foreign-owned banks, also used their clients' funds to support their opulent lifestyles.

Admissions were made in a civil action between the Dublin-born solicitor and property developer John Kelly, which prompted High Court judge Mr Justice Frank Clarke to express his surprise that no action had been taken against Mr Byrne.

"It is of relevance to note that Mr Byrne made full and frank admissions in the witness box as to the practices in which he was engaged and his acceptance that those practices were unlawful," said Mr Justice Clarke, who described Mr Byrne's activities as "a lawyer's version of a Ponzi scheme".

A full set of the transcripts in the case was forwarded to the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation. The judge said Mr Byrne had engaged in disreputable and fraudulent behaviour in his dealings with Mr Kelly.

Mr Byrne has consistently made himself available to the fraud squad since the Law Society ruled he was unfit to practise. This is in stark contrast to Mr Lynn, who fled the country in December 2007 with a warrant for his arrest.

Because the warrant relates to civil proceedings only, it is not enforceable in a foreign country.

Tomorrow, the High Court will be informed whether Mr Kelly -- who lost his damages action against Mr Byrne -- will appeal Mr Justice Clarke's ruling to the Supreme Court.

Last night, Law Society director general Ken Murphy said it was "incomprehensible" that the Lynn and Byrne cases had been under investigation for more than three-and-a-half years and still no decision had been made whether to proceed with criminal prosecutions.