JUST three years ago, builder John Fleming was said to have a personal worth of €140m.
But following the collapse of his business empire with debts of €1bn, the Cork-based developer is bankrupt and living in exile in a modest commuter estate in England.
The Irish Independent has established that Mr Fleming and his wife Noreen began renting their new home in Billericay, Essex, just five months before they both successfully filed for bankruptcy in a local court.
By filing the petition in the UK, Mr Fleming will be able to emerge from bankruptcy in as little as 12 months, compared to the 12 years it could have taken had he filed in Ireland.
Under British bankruptcy laws, people not normally living in the UK can petition for bankruptcy as long as they can prove residential or business connections in the country in the previous three years.
While Mr Fleming's decision to declare himself bankrupt in England was perfectly legal, the move has left him open to accusations of 'bankruptcy tourism'.
It has also raised the prospect that other struggling developers could follow his example, rather than dealing with NAMA or declaring themselves bankrupt in Ireland.
The builder has declined to comment on his move to the UK.
When contacted by the Irish Independent at his new home, he said: "I have no interest in talking to anybody in the media. We have enough problems and have gone through enough, so please leave us alone."
The Flemings' new neighbours say they have had little contact with the local community.
They began renting the modest end-of-terrace house in Holbrook Close, last June for £900 (€1,050) a month.
The 1970s-built three-bedroom house itself is worth £220,000 (€256,000).
The Flemings couldn't have picked a better location to keep a low profile.
Billericay is a dormitory town about a 30-minute journey from Liverpool Street train station and is mainly home to busy professionals working in London.
The estate is on the edge of the town and does not have any of its own facilities, such as a shop, post office or pub.
Although several neighbours were aware "new people" had moved into the house, none spoken to by the Irish Independent have had any dealings with the Flemings.
"They keep themselves to themselves," was the most common comment on the couple.
Within five months of renting the house, Mr Fleming and his wife had secured bankruptcy orders at Southend County Court.
According to the UK's insolvency register, they are both due to be automatically discharged from bankruptcy on November 10 this year.
The developer rose from humble roots in west Cork in the 1970s.
Over the next two decades he expanded his building business around Ireland and into the UK.
But an official receiver is now in control of Mr Fleming's group of companies.