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Fleming's empire crumbled, then he became the first 'bankruptcy tourist'

JOHN FLEMING has already become Ireland's most successful 'bankruptcy tourist'.

Two years ago, the Corkman saw his property empire crumble around him with distressing speed. His companies wrote off debts of €1bn, as he went bankrupt in a court in Essex.

During his bankruptcy he was living modestly in a rented house in Billericay, Essex with his wife Noreen.

Earlier, the couple had lived in another English home in Bicester, but said they found it too damp.

It must have seemed like a lonely existence for a man who had been cock of the walk around his Irish home base.

With five daughters, the Flemings had been like the Quinns of West Cork and attracted the same kind of fervent loyalty.

One close associate from the Courtmacsherry area said: "He was like God for 20 years around here because he provided so many jobs."

Mr Fleming was an enthusiastic supporter of Fianna Fail.

In 2007, he told the Mahon Tribunal how he left a cheque for IR£5,000 on a table at a Fianna Fail fundraising dinner in Cork attended by then-Taoiseach Albert Reynolds.

The high point for the property magnate perhaps came in 2006 when Bertie Ahern opened his Sheraton Fota Island Hotel in Co Cork, with champagne, caviar and singing by the local soprano Cara O'Sullivan. It was one of the quintessential Celtic Tiger bashes.

But it all went pear-shaped when the man who started out building farm sheds over-extended himself with grandiose schemes, such as the gargantuan 14-storey Sentinel office tower in Sandyford, which now stands as an empty concrete shell.

Mr Fleming's bankruptcy documents offer a rare insight into the life of a fallen tycoon. He had to transfer family properties in Cork to a liquidator, including the family home near Butlerstown.

However, the Flemings were allowed to keep personal assets worth up to €49,100 including:

• Two cars worth a total of €25,000.

• Jewellery worth €1,000.

• Two sets of golf clubs worth less than €600.

• Clothes worth €1,500.

• €20,000 in a London bank account for living expenses.

While other plutocrats from the Celtic Tiger -- including Sean Dunne and Sean Quinn -- attracted countless headlines, Mr Fleming kept his head low while he served out his bankruptcy.

He now works as property consultant for accountants Crowley Young in London.

According to his contract, his job involves "identifying commercial and residential property development and investment opportunities in the UK and Europe".

His office shares a building with Donban, the company that acquired his construction business.

His community involvement has not been forgotten in his native county. He was given a medal for his service with the local Courtmacsherry lifeboat.

Irish Independent