Michael Lynn’s seven-year saga edges towards its final act

The archetypal prince of the Irish boom fled with debts of €80 million

More than 8,000km from Dublin, in the modernist halls of the Supreme Federal Court in Brasilia, a remarkable seven-year saga edged towards its dénouement. The small-time solicitor who refashioned himself as a global property tycoon, then fled with debts of €80 million and a trail of furious investors in his wake, is to be extradited to Ireland more than a year after a "code red" Interpol alert led to his arrest at a shopping centre in northeast Brazil.

The archetypal prince of the Irish boom, Michael Lynn became a solicitor in the mid-1990s and built a practice specialising in conveyancing, giving him a front-row seat as Irish developers' mania for overseas property began to take root. Lynn wanted a piece of the action. Working from his law practice near the Four Courts in Dublin, the man from Crossmolina, Co Mayo, founded Kendar Holdings, which built apartments in Leitrim and offices in Cavan before expanding overseas with a 272-apartment development in the Portuguese Algarve in late 2003.

Kendar grew quickly, its reputation for savvy marketing burnished by the recruitment of celebrities such as Portuguese footballer Rui Costa. At one point, Lynn gave away an apartment in a Bulgarian ski resort on The Late Late Show.

By the time Kendar collapsed, in 2007, Lynn had 148 properties, 154 bank accounts and assets worth more than €50 million. Concerns about the solicitor's activities came to light in October 2007, when the Law Society, the body that regulates solicitors, shut down Lynn's legal practice amid concerns about his property dealings and borrowings.


Bench warrant

In December 2007, the Law Society was due to cross-examine Lynn in the

High Court

. It is understood it intended to press him on his property dealings, particularly his alleged 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.

Lynn, now in his mid-40s, was struck off the roll of solicitors and looked into by the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation. That long-running inquiry concluded in February 2012, when the Director of Public Prosecutions recommended he be charged, paving the way for the issuing of an international arrest warrant.

After he left Ireland, Lynn spent some time in Portugal and sightings were reported in Bulgaria, New York and London. In August 2009, he was interviewed by police in Budapest, but he could not be extradited to Ireland because there were no criminal charges against him at the time.

Inquiries by the Brazilian police show Lynn entered the country for the first time in 2007, and then three more times in 2011. He had business connections to Brazil, but a greater attraction was the absence of an extradition treaty between Ireland and Brazil, which appeared to put him beyond Dublin’s reach. If that didn’t offer enough protection, then the permanent residence status secured through the birth of his son in Brazil surely would. That sense of safety would turn out to be illusory.

Calm but taken aback

After Lynn’s arrest, a police spokesman,

Giovani Santoro

, said the Irish man was calm but taken aback. “He said he knew this could happen to him some day, but he didn’t think it would happen in Brazil,” the spokesman said. Acquaintances said he made little attempt to hide his problems back home. He took a part-time job teaching English at the Britanic language school, where he was paid €640 a month.

With his wife Bríd Murphy and their young son, he rented a house in Candeias, a suburb where middle-class families buy 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 friends said Lynn was determined to find a house. The family had 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 was unpaved and had no street lamps.

Presumably Lynn accepted these trade-offs because he had a reason to be in Recife. To some of those who knew him that reason was obvious: Recife was in the midst of a residential property boom, and, as one colleague put it, “That’s what he knows.”

According to documents obtained by The Irish Times in Brazil last year, Lynn and Murphy were listed as the owners of Golina, a property firm whose papers were first lodged in November 2007 in Fortaleza, a coastal city in the north. Separate files showed that in 2011 and 2012 the couple declared their home address in a suburb of São Paulo, the country's commercial capital.

By the summer of 2012, Lynn was working at the language school in Recife, and in October that year he and his wife registered a property company, Quantum Assessoria E Empreendimentos (Quantum Consulting and Ventures) Ltd, which remained active at the time of his arrest in August last year. He is also believed to have been involved in a venture in Cabo de Santo Agostina, 35km south of Recife, where demand for housing has surged as a result of the expansion of nearby Suape, one of the biggest ports in Brazil. Lynn, it appears, was back in business.

By the time of his arrest in Recife, Lynn had settled into a routine that centred on his home, the school and occasional trips to a golf and country club where he would bring his son to see horses. He was also making plans to build a new home for the family on the outskirts of Recife.

But by mid-2013, the net was closing. Ireland and Brazil began talks on an extradition treaty and agreed that, pending its conclusion, they would treat extradition requests from each other on the basis of reciprocity. Once that was agreed, Dublin issued a request through Interpol for Lynn to be sent home.

After his arrest, the Irish man was brought to Cotel prison, on the outskirts of Recife. He has been there for 15 months while his case has wound its way through the federal courts system. That battle lost, arrangements will now be made for Lynn’s return to Dublin after a seven-year absence.

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic is the Editor of The Irish Times