Michael Lynn’s second life
What attracted solicitor to Recife, Brazil? Maybe it was its property boom
All along the seafront, family homes have made way for soaring apartment blocks that offer uninterrupted ocean views. Every street in certain parts of Candeias seems to have a glass-fronted Portakabin selling apartments off the plans. In one of these, for a half-built development called Helena Borges, a salesman named Eduardo hands out brochures with pictures of immaculate white living rooms and private gyms. A two-bedroom apartment on the 11th floor costs the equivalent of €103,000. “It’s quiet, it’s calm, it’s near the beach,” he says. One of his apartments has already been snapped up by an Irishman named Peter, he adds.
Few saw Lynn’s arrest coming. He certainly didn’t. According to a federal police spokesman, Giovani Santoro, Lynn was calm when he was brought to the station but taken aback by what was happening. “He said he knew this could happen to him some day, but he didn’t think it would happen in Brazil,” Santoro says. “He was surprised.”
This tallies with other accounts of Lynn’s time in Recife, where he lived openly and made little attempt to hide his problems back home. He was also planning for the future: The Irish Times has learned that he was building a house for the family on the outskirts of the city.
His confidence was understandable. For six years Lynn had evaded the Irish authorities, a host of financial institutions and the many investors who lost large sums when his property empire collapsed. In Brazil, he believed, the fact that there was no extradition treaty put him beyond Dublin’s reach. And if that didn’t offer enough protection, then the permanent residence status secured through the birth of his son in Brazil surely would.
His arrest is a dramatic turn in an already remarkable story. The man from Crossmolina, Co Mayo, became a solicitor in the mid-1990s and built a practice specialising in litigation and property conveyancing, giving him a close-up view as Irish property developers’ overseas interests began to take off. Lynn wanted a piece of the action.
Working from his law practice in the Capel Building, near the Four Courts, he founded Kendar Holdings, which built apartments in Leitrim and offices in Cavan but soon expanded overseas, starting with a 272-apartment development in the Portuguese Algarve in late 2003.
Specialising in overseas investment property, Kendar grew quickly, earning a reputation for savvy marketing by recruiting celebrities such as the Portuguese footballer Rui Costa. At one point he gave away an apartment in a Bulgarian ski resort on The Late Late Show; it was one of the programme’s biggest prizes.
By the time Kendar collapsed, in 2007, Lynn had 148 properties, 154 bank accounts and assets worth more than €50 million. All the time he had continued to run his legal practice.
Concerns about Lynn’s activities came to light in October 2007, when the Law Society, the body that regulates solicitors in Ireland, shut down Lynn’s legal practice amid concerns about his property dealings and borrowings. An investigation by the Law Society found he had used his practice’s client account for personal dealings and there had been a flow of money between his practice and property business.
In December 2007 the Law Society was due to cross-examine Lynn in the High Court. It intended to press him on his property dealings, particularly his drawing down of multiple mortgages using solicitors’ undertakings, a trust mechanism lawyers use in residential-property transactions. It has been alleged that Lynn used these undertakings to draw down multiple loans and build up enormous debts. But Lynn never showed up. A bench warrant was issued for his arrest, but by then he had already fled. He left with bank claims of €80 million against him and owing many millions to investors who paid deposits for his properties in Portugal, Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia.
Lynn was struck off the roll of solicitors and looked into by the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation. That long-running inquiry culminated, in February last year, with the Director of Public Prosecutions recommending that he be charged, paving the way for the issuing of an international arrest warrant. According to Brazilian sources, the extradition request from the Irish authorities states that they intend to bring 33 charges against Lynn.