Michael Lynn’s second life
What attracted solicitor to Recife, Brazil? Maybe it was its property boom
A class of his own: Michael Lynn at the Britanic school in Brazil, where he was teaching until his arrest last week
Brazilian beginnings: the beach at Recife. Photograph: Holger Leue/Getty Images
Home front: the house Michael Lynn and his family are renting in Candeias, a suburb of Recife. Photograph: Ruadhán Mac Cormaic
‘The World Awaits.’ For Michael Lynn the slogan draped across the facade of the Britanic language school must have sounded more like a taunt than a promise. Lynn, the man who amassed millions selling the dream of fortunes in foreign lands, found himself in northeastern Brazil because his own world was contracting, his options narrowing. “I would say he was already in a sort of open prison,” says Mark Astle, the director of the school.
The archetypal prince of the Irish boom, a small-time solicitor who refashioned himself as a global property tycoon, found himself 8,000km from home, in a country where he didn’t speak the language, applying for a €640-a-month job as a part-time tutor.
What Recife did offer, however, thanks to the lack of an extradition treaty between Ireland and Brazil, was sanctuary from the pursuit of the Irish authorities. But even that may now turn out to have been illusory. Last week, six years after Lynn fled Ireland with debts of €80 million and a trail of furious investors in his wake, police in Recife were ordered to act on a “code red” Interpol alert and arrest the 44-year-old Irishman. Within a few hours they had tracked him down.
As Recife awoke from the Brazilian winter this week, blue skies bringing joggers and families to its glorious white-sand beaches, the city looked every bit the rising South American metropolis. Expensive hotels and restaurants stretch along the seafront, a fine new stadium has been built for next year’s World Cup, and car dealerships have begun to diversify into the yacht business.
The economy in Recife, the capital of Pernambuco state and Brazil’s fifth-largest city, has been outpacing the national juggernaut for years, and unemployment is now running at just 6 per cent. Foreign firms such as Fiat and Microsoft have huge facilities here, and the city has been making a hefty return from regionally produced commodities such as ethanol. The bonanza has been affected only slightly by the global economic downturn.
“For Pernambuco, this is the best moment for 50 years,” says Paulo César Maia Porto, one of Lynn’s lawyers.
Yet the spectacular coastline and roaring economy can’t mask some of the city’s problems, in particular its high rates of poverty and serious crime. Although Rio de Janeiro’s drug wars make international headlines, the murder rate in Recife is 58 per 100,000, more than twice that of Rio. In 2009 there was an average of 12 murders a day, and a screen was mounted in the city centre to keep track of the death toll.
In so many areas of daily life the city’s infrastructure has struggled to keep up. Roads can become impassible after a downpour, and traffic is so bad that it can take three hours to travel 40km across the city’s outer belt in rush hour. Even the azure sea is notoriously menacing: swimming is prohibited because of frequent shark attacks.
The life that Lynn and his wife, Bríd Murphy, built reflects some of the city’s paradoxes. The couple, who have a two-year-old son, rent a house in Candeias, a suburb where middle-class families are buying luxury apartments built alongside favelas and open sewers.
Living in a house is an unusual – and, for most, prohibitively expensive – choice in Recife, where the most sought-after home is an upper-floor apartment facing the sea.
But acquaintances say Lynn was determined to find a house. The family have three dogs, two cats and some birds. They wanted more space. What they found was a large house with a swimming pool and a garden in a walled compound surrounded by barbed wire. The road outside is unpaved and has no street lamps. “If you want to live in a house there are very few opportunities,” Astle says. “And if you have one you have to surround yourself with barbed wire, security systems and dogs . . . I wouldn’t want it myself.”
Presumably, Lynn accepted these trade-offs because he had a reason to be in Recife. To some of those who know him that reason is obvious: Recife is in the midst of a residential property boom, and, as one colleague puts it, “That’s what he knows.”