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Staff told of 'clapathon' meetings and long hours

DARRAGH MacAnthony was building and selling homes by his early 20s. Establishing his foreign property company MacAnthony Realty International (MRI) in 2000, at the age of just 24, the Dubliner swiftly rose to a level of property development aspired to by so many during the boom years.

He had moved to Spain as a teenager and noticed, first hand, the attraction of property to foreign investors. When he started his company, he did so from home with a budget of just £5,000 (€6,000).

By 2005, it was shifting thousands of properties -- it was once claimed one every 43 minutes -- with an annual turnover of around £100m (€120m).

"I take all the risks so my clients don't have to," he once said.

"I have moved into countries where other companies have been nervous, such as when I opened my US office seven months after 9/11."

Mr MacAnthony's wealth was evident -- he had a fleet of sports cars, luxury homes and in 2006 he even bought the English football club Peterborough United, aka 'The Posh'.

Even in those days, however, there were unusual reports surrounding the company -- former employees likened it to a cult atmosphere, with 'clapathon' meetings, long working weeks and claims that staff were instructed never to wear the colour red.

In 2008, the 'Sunday Times' Rich List estimated his worth at €180m.

When he purchased 'The Posh', Mr MacAnthony raised his profile and drew much attention to his business practices.

In February 2010, he hit the headlines when the club had gone on a losing streak and let go of three managers in just three months -- including Alex Ferguson's son Darren. Later that season, the club was relegated.

Soon the media was full of reports of his businesses' performances -- the voluntary liquidation of the UK subsidiary MRI Overseas Property, and the striking off order against MRI Ireland the previous January.

Two others, MRI Media and MRI TV, had also been declared insolvent by 2010, while Peterborough's debts rose from £1.2m (€1.4m) to £6.6m (€8m).

Commenting on the club's ill-fortune, Mr MacAnthony said "greed, skulduggery, tapping-up and disloyalty from within" were to blame.

At around the same time, his company was accused by an MP in the House of Commons of outright fraud and it was investigated by the UK's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) following a series of complaints from clients.

Irish Independent