WHEN Dylan Creaven shook hands on a deal to hand over £18.5 last month, he viewed it as little more than “a business arrangement”.
And so – the 33-year-old thought – did the head of the UK’s Assets Recovery Agency because that’s how he says she described it to him.
With the ink barely dry on the deal – thrashed out over two days – Jane Earl also turned to him, shock his hand and wished him the very best with his life.
Though understandably gutted to have to say goodbye to a sizable chunk of his estimated £28 million fortune, the self-made Ennis computer entrepreneur was initially relieved to at last bring an end to five years of hell.
From the moment he was violently pulled from a moving car, arrested and thrown into London’s notorious Wandsworth Prison to the recent ARA deal, he had seen a business that once reached the €1 billion turnover mark reduced to nothing and his reputation all but destroyed.
Many of the cronies he accumulated over the years vanished, his relationship with his family suffered and the blue-eyed boy wonder from Ennis was suddenly not quite so blue-eyed after all.
But any relief Creaven felt is now tinged with anger.
Since the ARA announced the deal, he has been variously – and libellously – branded as a “criminal” and a “fraudster” despite the fact that he has has never actually been found guilty of single crime.
And there have been “interesting” claims that he has between €80 and €100 million stashed away in secret bank accounts.
Though arrested in November 2002 and accused of being involved in an elaborate VAT scam, the jury in his 2005 fraud trail at Blackfriars Crown Court found him innocent of all charges.
That may not mean much to the people who want to demonise him but it’s telling that for all the time and effort spent “nailing” him, his costs from that case – believed to be in the region of around £5 million – have yet to be paid back to him.
As to the cash he is said to have stashed away, he not only denies this but his lawyers – the same firm that represented former British paratroopers involved in the Bloody Sunday enquiry – say he will now sue for libel.
After the ARA deal was announced, he complained bitterly to friends: “I am an innocent man who has been made into a scapegoat and treated appallingly just so various authorities can make themselves look good.
“The annoying thing is that I co-operated with various agencies YEARS before I was arrested.
“I put in place stringent security measures to combat the very fraud I was eventually investigated for and had – or so I thought – the support of the very same people who ended up arresting me.
“Now people just assume that because I had to give the Assets Recovery Agency and the Criminal Assets Bureau a total of around £18.5 million that I must be guilty of something.
“I can understand why people might think that.
“But what annoys me most about all this is that people have very conveniently forgotten that I have never been found guilty of anything.
“And the deal with the ARA and the CAB was – in their own words – a business transaction.
“I admitted at my court case last year that there was a good chance that 99% of the people who I had done business with may not have been legitimate.
“I did not know that at the time. Had I done, there is no way I would have dealt with them.
“I agreed to hand over such a large amount of money because I had to accept that it was obtained from people who were involved in fraudulant activities.”
Friends liken what happened to Creaven – whose Ennis-based Silicon Technologies firm had an average annual turnover of around €400 million by 2001 – to what happens to anyone who unwittingly buys a stolen car.
“Put it this way,” said one. “If someone unknowingly buys a stolen car off someone else, they will have to surrender that car to the Gardai.
“Despite the fact that they didn’t steal that car or know it was stolen in the first place is entirely irrelevant.
“So too is the fact that they would have paid x-amount for it. It still has to be returned. It doesn’t make them a car thief. Nor does it make them a criminal.
“Far too many people want to see Dylan portrayed as some sort of bogeyman and that somehow handing over cash to the ARA means he must be guilty of something.”
But for all Creaven’s protestations of innocence to his friends, one has to ask why he texted his brother Marcus the day before his arrest and ask him to transfer €7 million from one of his bank accounts?
And in all the years previously, did he really NOT know he was doing anything wrong?
On the call to his brother, Creaven has admitted “it was a stupid, rash move done in panic” and one that he regretted almost as soon as he did it . . . or maybe when the transfer was stopped.
And as to the question about whether or not he was knowingly involved in fraudulent business transactions, he gives friends an unequivocal denial.
How exactly Creaven ended up as the head of a multi-million pound empire is still as much a mystery to some of his former school mates as it is to just about anyone who wants to take a pop at him.
One former school chum said last night: “Dylan was not the brightest kid at school. He was popular, but not someone I would have thought would ever amount to anything spectacular.”
While it is now known exactly what he did after he completed his Leaving Cert at Ennis’ St Flannan’s College, one former friend suggests he worked in a teashop, while another believes he studied for a diploma in business studies.
But between 1995 – aged just 22 – and 1997, he was opening a string of companies – including Silicon Technologies and Target Computers – and had gone from making and selling computers to dealing exclusively in the day-to-day trade in computer chips.
At around this time, Ennis had been nominated as Ireland’s Information Age Town.
Millions of pounds of Government and European grants flooded into the town which – until 2002 – was labelled “the largest community technology project in the world”.
One of Creaven’s bases was a unit at the Francis Street-based Clare Enterprise Centre in Ennis from July 1996. Silicon Technologies Europe Limited – which would eventually have offices in Singapore and Boston – was based at units 16 and 17 until December 2002.
And it was from his fairly nondescript base in Claire that Creaven was able to built up what became such a phenomenally successful business.
By the time of his arrest – which took place a few months after splitting from long-time girlfriend Hilaire Holland, with whom he is believed to have fathered a son – he had a large house on the outskirts of Ennis, a string of expensive car and was known to fly by helicopter to attend rugby matches at Limerick’s Garryowen Rugby Club, where he was a sponsor for about two years. He also had a string of race horses – including Latino Magic, and a Marbella property in Spain.
But while his friends say his success is down to sheer hard work and business nous, one former associate claimed last night that Creaven met some of his future business associates in . . . internet chatroom.
If true, it seems an extraodinary – albeit a bit far-fetched – kick-start to a multi-million pound business. That said, between October 24 and November 29, 1996, around 18 messages were posted in a variety of internet discussion groups by a “Dylan Creaven”, giving his email address as email@example.com.
On November 27, for example, this “Dylan Creaven” asked to be added to the “Cindy Crawford Nude Mailing List” and gave an extra email address as firstname.lastname@example.org.
The target-irl.com email address also links to an internet swingers site, and in particular to a discussion in which a man posted a naked picture of his wife and encouraged “readers” to tell him what they thought.
The man wrote: “This pic was taken in one of Dawns hairy phases…. she teasingly rubbed her finger in between her open ***** **** for this shot. I personally prefer her to be more closely ****** than she appears in this pic….. What do you think?
The target-irl.com address was also used to post a comment on a request made in another discussion group, entitled “Drug use and male impotence” and a message entitled “COKE”, in which a “Dylan Creaven” wrote: “Since I knew this would get your attention………Post me…..I want to see how many emails can accumulate in a school server in 7 days!!!!! Thanks…..L8R……………..”
The only reply it appeared to receive was a pornographic photograph.
However, other than offers to sell memory drives for Silicon Technologies, the majority of the messages posted on various internet sites are little more than get-rich-quick schemes.
Posting under headlines such as “Low on Cash????”, “Money Spinner!!!!!!!!”, “Easy Money!!!!” and “Money for Christmas”, internet users were encouraged to send $5 in an envelope to five addresses around the world – including the Newmarket on Fergus address for Dylan’s father Louis.
In the email – which appears to have been replicated numerous times – users are told: “I’ve been perusing usenet for a few months now and I’ve seen these ads appear very often. Like you, It that these postings were a complete annoyance and a waste of time.
“But after reading dozens of them, I decided ‘What the hell, for the sake of only 5 dollars I’ll give it a try’. But the reality is that it DOES work and you are guaranteed to receive large sums of money, legally.”
And he promised the scheme would “change your life, just like it did mine. It’s true! You can make up to or over $50.000 dollars in four to six weeks, maybe sooner! I SWEAR I’M NOT LYING TO YOU AND THIS IS NOT A SCAM!!!”
Little more of any consequence appears on the internet until April 2, 2002 when Creaven gave Computer Weekly a “Five minute interview”.
In it, he says the person he would most like to have a date with is “Jessica Rabbit . . . ask why, I suggest you rent the DVD” and says chat-up lines are so “passe”.
When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he replied: “I’m still deciding” and says he got into the IT business because “I figured that technology was the way forward, plus it’s always fascinated me – I never could walk past the door of The Gadget Shop”.
He said the most embarrassing thing that had ever happened to him was “locking myself out of my hotel room in Las Vegas – wearing only my shorts. It was a long walk to the reception desk and you would not believe just how many people are about at 4am in a Vegas hotel”.
The most daring thing was jumping from “an aircraft 15,000ft above the Mojave Desert. No matter how many times they tell you it’s safe, you still have to wonder what you’re doing the first time you step out of a perfectly good plane”.
Doubtless, the ARA feel it is themselves who have had the last laugh at Creaven’s expense. Really?
Whatever he decides to do next, he still has enough money left to not work another day of his life or give a stuff that his name appears on a site that trades naked pictures of Cindy Crawford.
He still has a considerable multi-million fortune left after the ARA deal, and still retains ownership of his £1.5 million Knightsbridge apartment.
It was not seized and it isn’t – despite reports – to be sold to help pay for his legal bills.
That tab is to be collected by the British taxpayer.
However much he could be expected to retire, friends believe he will return to business.
One said: “You have to remember, Dylan is a self-made millionaire. He’s only 33 and – despite what people have said about him – he has a big future ahead of him.
“Don’t think for a second this is someone who is going to hide away and do nothing. It’s just not in his nature.”
Ironically enough when Creaven did his 2002 Computer Weekly interview, his favourite jokes at the time were “any joke relating to Enron or Allied Irish Bank’s $691m oversight.” And he added: “You have to laugh when something that huge gets missed.”