Boom poster boy Michael Lynn refuses to be scapegoat
While fugitive former solicitor is not yet back in Ireland, his fight to stay in Brazil is over
Michael Lynn’s story is inextricably entwined with the property boom. The former solicitor who refashioned himself as a property tycoon let ambition get the better of him. He ended up in prison 8,000km from home and left a series of Irish clients massively out of pocket.
Lynn will return to face charges relating to the collapse of his empire, more than eight years on from when he failed to turn up to High Court proceedings in Dublin.
The Law Society had been due to cross-examine him about his property dealings, particularly his drawing down of multiple mortgages using solicitors’ undertakings, a trust mechanism used in property transactions.
In court documents then, he had estimated liabilities of €80 million. His assets were valued at €52.5 million and he or his firms were listed as having 154 bank accounts and dealings concerning some 148 properties.
After missing that court date in 2007, a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was stopped at an airport in New Jersey months later but had to be released as there was no extradition warrant. He subsequently spent time in Portugal, and sightings were reported in Bulgaria, New York and London.
In a rare interview in 2009, Lynn said while his borrowings were misguided, he did not believe he acted fraudulently. “The one thing I want to make clear is that I am not going to be a scapegoat for others,” he said. “I am not going to be used as an example of what was recognised as an acceptable form and practice of business by bankers, lawyers, accountants and auctioneers. I am not going to be the poster boy who ends up in prison to my cost alone.”
In October 2012, the Brazilian authorities confirmed he had been granted permanent residency in Brazil – a country that has no extradition treaty with Ireland. Less than a year later, local police began following Lynn after an Interpol “red alert” was issued. He was working as an English teacher at that stage.
“We knew his routine. He was calm, and it’s clear he didn’t realise he was being watched,” Supt Marcello Diniz Cordeiro of the federal police in Recife said later.
He had been living in the city for two years. Once ordered to find him, it took the police just a few hours.
Lynn then moved into Cotel, the overcrowded prison that became his home, where he stayed in a special unit for university graduates and ex-policemen.
“I don’t know how prisons are in Ireland, but it’s not like in the movies, where prisoners each have their own cell,” one of his lawyers, Paulo César Maia Porto, said. “There are about 30 people in a shared space, but it’s better than the rest of the prison.”
If anything, Lynn was in the process of strengthening his ties with Brazil before his arrest, since he was building a house for his family on the western outskirts of Recife. He and his wife had formed a property development company in 2011.
Remembering the arrest, police spokesman Giovani Santoro said the 44-year-old was “calm and relaxed”.
“When we arrested him and read him his rights, he said he knew this could happen to him some day, but he didn’t think it would happen in Brazil.”
Once jailed, Lynn sought bail, repeatedly with lawyers arguing there was no reason to keep him in custody. The court thought otherwise and in December 2014 Brazil’s supreme court decided to approve his extradition. He sought a clarification of the ruling but overturning it was always going to be a long shot.
Many of the charges against Lynn will be dropped to focus just on those relating to alleged theft, a condition set by the Brazilian court.
The process of getting him back to Ireland to face charges is expected to take about three months. Lynn will have to wait and see if he becomes that poster boy who ends up in prison, or if his way of doing business is, as he claimed, ultimately deemed to have been acceptable.
* This article was edited on February 17th, 2016. An earlier version described Michael Lynn as a solicitor. He is a former solicitor.