Breifne O'Brien: the Irish Bernie Madoff


If you haven't heard of the name Breifne O'Brien before, I wouldn't blame you.

He's a man who's elaborate pyramid scheme has earned him notoriety in Ireland, made him a poster-boy for the post Celtic Tiger era, yet who, unlike his approximate American counterpart, Bernie Madoff, is neither serving time behind bars or showing much in the way of repentance for his extraordinary financial misdeeds.

O'Brien and estranged wife Fiona Nagel were one of the Celtic Tiger's love couples. An investment adviser and a PR magnate respectively, they became known nationally for their lavish dos and lifestyle which often included government Ministers and entertainment tycoons on the guest list. Yet their extraordinary largesse was all coming from one not so legitimate source: O'Brien was running a pyramid scheme.

If, like me, you're not too au-fait with what one of these 'pyramid schemes' are, besides knowing that they're bad news, let me fill you in via Wikipedia.

According to the encyclopaedia website, they are - euphemistically - a 'non sustaining business model' which involves the con-man, in this case O'Brien, heaping promise a-top promise, and occasionally keeping baying investors at bay by taking others' money. Ultimate, like a deck of cards, the whole thing comes tumbling down, yet unlike in America, there seems to be little consequence when that happens.

Compare and contrast the experiences of O'Brien and that of former American stockbroker and current jailmate Bernie Madoff.

Madoff was sent to prison for 150 years for his role in mounting a massive Ponzi scheme which ultimately amounted to approximately $65 billion in losses to his defrauded victims. And although O'Brien's ill-got gains were nothing as staggering, his impunity certainly is.

In conservative Ireland, where defamation laws are still considerably tighter than those in the US, a recent article by the Irish Independent begins by calling O'Brien an 'alleged' society fraudster, but then goes on to recount how he has admitted to calling his victims 'suckers' as he lured them in to his elaborate scheme.

Which then beggars the question: is he an 'alleged' society fraudster, or just a plain old gangster?

The extraordinary thing at the bottom of the whole O'Brien saga is that media coverage in Ireland is dedicated to discussions of how O'Brien's bust taxi business' liquidation won't be enough to pay off his creditors, or how his estranged and now broke wife had been forced at one stage to raise money from her mother as her life collapsed around her.

Yet for those who have been defrauded by O'Brien, and who have faced the fresh disappointment of learning that the taxi company won't earn them a cent, there is the seemingly unanswerable question of why criminal investigations haven't been strongly pushed for, which is ultimately why the newspapers remain forced to tack on an almost farcical 'alleged' to an offence which by his own admission O'Brien is guilty of.

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