Assets-freezing order on alleged fraudster increased

A HIGH Court judge has sought clarification of issues relating to an application by a company for the return of some €685,000…

A HIGH Court judge has sought clarification of issues relating to an application by a company for the return of some €685,000 given for investment purposes to alleged pyramid scheme operator Breifne O’Brien, whose assets freezing order was yesterday increased to €16 million.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly said the €685,000 judgment order was being sought by Barty O’Brien Ltd, but case documents appeared to indicate the agreements were executed personally by Martin O’Brien, of McElwaine, Brownstown, The Curragh, Co Kildare, a director of the firm, and that it was his own cash which was involved.

The judge said he needed clarification of the identity of the plaintiff before granting judgment in the amount sought.

John Hennessy SC, for Barty O’Brien Ltd, said he accepted there were contradictions between what was stated in Martin O’Brien’s affidavit and the documents exhibited, but his instructions were the cash was lent by the firm to Breifne O’Brien.

In his affidavit, Martin O’Brien said he was introduced to Breifne O’Brien by an investment adviser, Peter O’Reilly, who knew Breifne O’Brien for some 20 years and who said he believed Breifne O’Brien was a person of integrity. Martin O’Brien said he agreed, on behalf of his firm, to invest in transactions involving Breifne O’Brien acquiring an option over properties at Place Vendome in Paris.

He said some €685,000 was invested, and was told repayment would occur last November. In early December he received a cheque for €27,236 from Breifne O’Brien on the account of Avonmere Ltd, which he now knew was dissolved in August 2008.

On December 12th the cheque was returned marked “refer to drawer”. He also learned Breifne O’Brien was in financial difficulty.

After counsel asked for time to address issues raised by the judge, Mr Justice Kelly agreed to adjourn the judgment application to Friday, adding he was prepared to make a judgment order, but needed to know the exact identity of the judgment recipient.

On a separate application by Robert Dennison, of Beechpark, Tipper, Naas, Co Kildare, for judgment for some €312,085, the judge made an order for repayment which, Mr Hennessy said, was the outstanding amount of sums advanced by Mr Dennison to Breifne O’Brien for investment.

In an affidavit, Mr Dennison said he was also introduced to Breifne O’Brien by Peter O’Reilly, who informed him of an investment opportunity related to Place Vendome. Mr Dennison said he agreed to invest €500,000, with an expected return of €61,236. He was later asked to allow his money to be rolled over for a second Paris transaction, but he said he needed the money for other purposes.

Some cash was returned, but he was still awaiting the return of invested capital of €312,098.

Earlier, Gabriel Gavigan, for Breifne O’Brien, said his client was neither consenting nor objecting to the applications for judgment, and was making no admissions over matters set out on affidavit. Breifne O’Brien was prepared to consent to the freezing order on his assets being increased to €16 million, to include costs.

Breifne O’Brien, of Invergarry, Silchester Road, Glenageary, is alleged to have operated a “pyramid” scheme over some 15 years, misappropriating millions from investors to fund his lifestyle and business interests. The court has to date made orders requiring Breifne O’Brien to repay some €14 million paid by various investors.

Earlier this week, the judge referred case papers to Garda fraud detectives after saying it seemed friends of Breifne O’Brien were apparent victims of a “highly successful but not particularly sophisticated confidence trick”.

Breifne O’Brien has estimated his assets as some €36 million. Lawyers for investors have said this might be closer to €20 million when charges and liabilities are taken into account. His debts appeared to be about €17.23 million, the court has heard.