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Saturday 25 November 2017

Gardai to target society fraudster

Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Detectives turn attention to bogus investor Breifne O'Brien

THE garda fraud squad is expected to ramp up its investigation into the alleged society fraudster Breifne O'Brien, who has yet to be arrested two years after he admitted to conning his friends out of €18m.

Officers have admitted that the investigation was put on the back burner while resources were trained on the Anglo Irish Bank inquiry. Now that a garda file on the bank case has been completed, detectives will be returning to the second high profile, high finance case on its books.

Two years ago this month, Mr O'Brien confessed to investors -- most of whom were longstanding friends -- that he had been "living a lie". He duped them into investing in bogus schemes and used the money to fund his extravagant lifestyle and prop up his business interests, allegedly misappropriating millions over 15 years.

The garda fraud squad was called in by Mr Justice Peter Kelly in January 2009 after Mr O'Brien's victims, who included college friends and his brother-in-law, went to the High Court to freeze his assets. Mr Justice Kelly said they were apparently victims of a "highly successful but not particularly sophisticated confidence trick" and believed there was "prima facie evidence" of serious criminal offences.

Since then, a number of Mr O'Brien's victims have made formal complaints to the fraud squad and detectives have taken numerous statements. The Victorian house he shared with his wife, Fiona Nagle, on Silchester Road in Glenageary, was searched last year and bank records and financial statements were removed for examination.

While sources said he has been "in communication" with gardai he has not been arrested or formally questioned about the allegations that he defrauded his friends. Sources said he has also contacted some of his friends, promising to repay the money which he referred to as "borrowings".

Detectives blamed the demands of the Anglo investigation for the slow progress of the case. More than 40 detectives were working on Anglo, trawling bank records and files, interviewing scores of witnesses and assembling the information into two garda files, one of which consisted of 42 volumes.

A senior source said that now the bulk of the bank case is complete, attention will return to Mr O'Brien.

Mr O'Brien and his wife, who were high profile regulars on the social circuit, are now estranged. In a statement earlier this year, Ms Nagle said she was "devastated" by the revelations about her husband and the trauma caused to her five children, who range in age from an infant to 18.

Mr O'Brien ran a number of businesses including a taxi firm but styled himself as an investment consultant to a chosen group of friends and confidantes. He kept the ruse going by luring new investors and using their capital to pay back dividends to others, to keep the illusion of a return. But it appears he was using the bulk of the money for his own gain.

As the credit crunch bit, investors clamoured to get their money back but it was gone, and Mr O'Brien was forced to come clean.

Most of his investors have got little or nothing back. Mr O'Brien's art works, an Aston Martin car, stocks and shares and taxi business were seized by the county sheriff. The proceeds raised an estimated €200,000. Mr O'Brien also had assets in Dublin, Paris and England, a car showroom in Munich, and investment funds, which were valued at €11m last year and are security on loans owed to Anglo.

Sunday Independent

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