WITH A new business partner in tow and a fancy name change to his Dublin city centre restaurant, you’d be forgiven for thinking that socialite Marcus Sweeney was back on his feet.
Indeed, he has appeared to put behind him the extraordinary acrimony of his split with ex-girlfriend Katy French and his excruciatingly ill-judged decision to call RTE’s Liveline in February.
Then the Maserati Spyder-driving 29-year-old appeared as defiant as he was indignant about seemingly scurrilous claims being made against him by a string of creditors who queued up to call Joe Duffy’s show in the aftermath of his split with model Miss French.
But more than three months after dismissing creditors’ concerns as little more than misunderstandings, he is being chased for more than €47,000 – just €3,000 shy of the amount he is said to have paid for an engagement ring for Miss French.
Some of the creditors who phoned Liveline have yet to be paid a single cent and one of those chasing him is a former friend who claims he paid Mr Sweeney €15,000 last year for a Porsche Boxster.
Other creditors say they are still owed money despite repeated promises from the perma-tanned restaurateur, who relaunched his South William Street restaurant on May 10 – with a name change from Number Ten to Il Pomo D’Oro (which translates from Italian to either ‘tomato’, ‘golden apple’ or more bizarrely, ‘golden knob’).
One creditor is so furious at the way he has been treated that he has vowed ‘to bankrupt him’ while another last night revealed they have already instructed solicitors to liquidate one of his firms.
If legal moves against him succeed, Mr Sweeney faces the ignominy of being banned from holding a directorship of an Irish company.
A former business associate of Mr Sweeney said last night: ‘He has been given countless chances to sort his business affairs out.
Thousands of euros have been wiped out in settlement agreements but he has still failed in his obligations.
‘Some people would let it go were it not for the way he has behaved towards them – ignoring their calls, their letters and even pretending not to know them when he bumps into them in the street.’ One of the largest single amounts he owes is to Lemongrass Ltd, one of Ireland’s most successful restaurant franchises.
The company is owed more than €19,000, which relates to services provided for Mr Sweeney when he briefly ran a Lemongrass franchise in Clontarf, north Dublin. In March, after months of legal wrangling, a settlement figure of €12,000 was eventually agreed.
To date, none of this money has been received and Lemongrass bosses have instructed their lawyers to go after Mr Sweeney for the full amount, plus interest.
Mr Sweeney, whose real estate firm MMS Property Developments was dissolved on May 25, is also being chased over a €15,000 payment a former friend claims to have given him in exchange for a Porsche Boxster last year.
Sports car enthusiast Stephen Dempsey, 40, a former director of the Irish Ducati Owners’ Club, claims he has yet to get the car and is currently suing his former friend in the Dublin Circuit Court over the deal.
Mr Sweeney failed to attend a June 8 hearing but he has been served with a notice to attend the next hearing, on July 8.
Friends of Mr Dempsey, who is believed to have a receipt for the money he claims he paid Mr Sweeney, say he has ‘bent over backwards to accommodate Marcus’ but that he has finally ‘had enough’.
Another creditor who shares those sentiments is Laois-based Festa Fine Foods Ltd, which was supposed to have been paid €5,152 in March of this year.
The company had successfully sued Mr Sweeney’s Park Avenue Leisure Ltd in October 2006 over an unpaid bill of €9,152.
Festa Fine Foods agreed to accept the money in two instalments.
Although the first payment of €4,000 was received on March 2, the second payment failed to arrive on the due date.
His troubles don’t end there.
Natali Maciejowska and Kinga Jedralska – the two Polish workers Mr Sweeney sparred with on Liveline in February, before vowing to deal with their complaints against him – have taken Mr Sweeney’s restaurant to the Labour Court.
A decision on that case – which was heard last month – is due in two weeks.
They claim he owes them both around €8,000 in unpaid overtime and monies they should have been paid to work bank holidays. Last night, Miss Maciejowska, 23, said: ‘I am owed money. Marcus won’t even speak to me but I am not giving up.
I worked hard for this man.
‘He was my first employer when I arrived in Ireland from Poland, and he did not pay me properly. It’s not just the money, it’s the principle.
‘In Poland, Christmas Eve is a big event. He made me work Christmas Eve for him – and then didn’t pay me anything extra for that.’ Miss Jedralska, 29, is also suing over unfair dismissal. She said last night: ‘He didn’t bother to tell me he was shutting the Lemongrass restaurant in Clontarf.
‘It just closed and I was out of work. I pass him all the time on Grafton Street and he just ignores me, as if I don’t exist.
‘Like Natalie, it is not so much the money any more, it is the principle.
This man knows he owes me money but does not appear to care.’ She added: ‘He seems to think I don’t have any paperwork to support my claim, but I do.
‘I am a hard worker and an honest person. I refuse to be treated as if I am cheating someone out of money.’ In his Liveline interview, Mr Sweeney insisted that he didn’t owe the Polish women a cent.
He told Joe Duffy: ‘According to my accounts, they are not owed anything from their employment and we have gone over the last eight months with them.’ Why the fortunes of Marcus Sweeney should be of any interest is largely based around his relationship with Miss French, reckoned to be one of the most astute models of her generation.
Their love affair – which culminated with a proposal in Dubai – was one he was happy to flaunt in the pages of magazines like Social & Personal.
But while his ex has turned the process of dealing with their bereavement into an art form, Marcus’s trajectory since the split has taken a starkly contrasting downward spiral.
It will be interesting to see what he does about the determined group of creditors chasing him.
During the Liveline phone-in, the former manager of Citywest gym remarked nonchalantly in the voice of a world-weary businessman: ‘Business is run on credit. I’m owed money, we owe money. That’s how business is run.’
Let’s see if his creditors are of the same view.