Breifne O’Brien estranged wife Fiona Nagle defends herself against allegations

BREIFNE O’Brien’s estranged wife Fiona Nagle last night spoke out for the first time since his pyramid scams were exposed in 2008.

In an emotional statement, Miss Nagle said she felt compelled to break her silence because of a series of allegations made against her in a creditors’ meeting yesterday.

It had been held to agree on the liquidation of Blackrock Cabs, which O’Brien had used to bankroll his lavish lifestyle.

The meeting heard allegations about the way Miss Nagle, who replaced her estranged husband as director in December 2008, had also used income from the taxi company.

But last night Miss Nagle, who was removed as a director of the Dublin firm in February, defended her running of the business.

She added that it had been her only source of income with which to support herself and her five children.

She said: ‘Having been advised of a statement made by a director in relation to my involvement in Blackrock Cabs which contained untrue allegations, I am forced to outline my involvement after my separation from my estranged husband Breifne O’Brien.

‘(When I took it over) I had five children, ranging from an infant of 6 months to a son of 18 years who was studying for his leaving certificate.

‘All of us were devastated by the revelations of my estranged husband’s business activities and the subsequent trauma to our lives.

‘In my time running Blackrock Cabs, I at all times worked in the best interests of the staff and the company’s creditors and customers.

‘I am extremely disappointed and upset at how the whole Blackrock Cabs affair has been handled.

‘The hostile approach to me, my mother and my children has been very upsetting and served no constructive purpose.’

O’Brien – once the epitome of Celtic Tiger success – came to national prominence in 2008 when he was reported to have described people who put money into his various investment schemes as ‘suckers’.

It emerged in 2008 that instead of investing all their money, he used it to pay off failed investments, pay for investments of his own and to fund a lavish lifestyle.

As well as shelling out for sports cars, designer suits and foreign holidays, O’Brien used the investors’ money to fund extravagant parties, many of which were held at his sprawling €2m home in Glenageary in south Dublin.

More than 11 former friends, including his brother-in-law, are now suing O’Brien for a total of €18m.

Yesterday, those owed money by Blackrock Cabs gasped at the creditors’ meeting when details of the amount of money flowing through its accounts were revealed.

They heard that €10m went through accounts for Blackrock Cabs between 1999 and 2009 – even though turnover during the same period was less than €5m.

Creditors also heard how payments were made from the company accounts to fund the alleged fraudster’s lavish lifestyle.

In a statement read out to creditors at a meeting held at Harcourt Hotel in central Dublin, Blackrock Cabs company director David Kearns said he conducted a review of accounts for the year 2008 and discovered ‘alarming irregularities’.

Mr Kearns said Blackrock Cabs – which had five full-time drivers and more than 40 self-employed drivers – had a legitimate turnover in 2008 of €326,000.

But he said: ‘Mr O’Brien put nearly €900,000 through his directors loan account for that year.

‘I found all sorts of payments relating to staff for his house, insurance for other businesses and payment of other loans.’

He said he also found cash payments ‘for household bills, Musgrave’s Cash & Carry, paintings for his house, foreign travel bills and bills for repairs to his personal home.

These alone amounted to €56,000.’

Mr Kearns said the remaining €850,000 ‘went through the company as a director’s loan and I have no idea what for’.

He went on to make a series of allegations against Miss Nagle. She had taken over the running of the firm in December 2008, when O’Brien’s affairs ended up in court.

He said: ‘She proceeded to pay two people who were not employed by the company but are believed to be housekeepers for her personal use.’

He said she also put through direct debits totalling around €2,000 a month, adding: ‘I was unable to find out how any of these payments related to the company.’

He claimed she had also understated the amount of money the company owed in PAYE and PRSI.

Last night Miss Nagle denied understating PAYE or PRSI and said she had made an arrangement with the Revenue Commissioners, which was drawn up by her accountant.

She said: ‘At all times while I managed the company’s affairs after December 2008, I sought and relied upon professional advices as to how the finances of the company should be arranged and dealt with further.

‘At the time of my removal from the company, I had come to a favourable agreement with the Revenue in relation to paying arrears due and for all payments going forward.’

‘My circumstances dictated that I had to take over responsibility for the operations of Blackrock Cabs in December 2008.

‘I did so at the time out of a sense of responsibility to the staff of the company, some of whom had been there for over 10 years, and to the creditors of the company.

I worked very long hours and often worked seven days a week. ‘When I assumed responsibility for the operations of the company, it was operating at a loss and the cash flow situation was precarious.

Throughout the time I was CEO, from December 2008 to January 2010, I regularly lent personal money into the company’s account to prevent it from going into unauthorised overdraft.’

She said her mother also helped out financially.

None of this details was relayed during the creditors’ meeting. At the meeting, Mr Kearns said the firm’s fixtures and fittings amount to little more than the value of scrap and he concluded: ‘This company will never be in a position to repay its creditors and is insolvent.’

The Statement of Affairs listed liabilities of €157,732, of which €77,600 is owed to the Revenue Commissioners, €18,000 to the Sheriff John Fitzpatrick and €7,132 to trade creditors.

The company’s total deficit is €102,732.

Miss Nagle is no doubt that had she been left to her own devices the company could have survived.

She said: ‘My intention when I assumed responsibility for the operations of Blackrock Cabs was firstly to stabilise the affairs of the company.

Then I wanted to put the necessary investment in place which would enable it to grow and in time realise value for the shareholders, and ensure that the company could meet its debts and discharge its creditors as they fell due.

‘My effectiveness as CEO is apparent from the company’s accounts, which show a loss-making company in 2008 moving to a break-even and marginally profitable business by December 2009.

‘The company required investment to enable it to grow its revenues and thus turn consistently profitable.

‘I had arranged two investors who were prepared to back me with my vision and commitment for the company, one of whom would have brought several large client accounts leading to a substantial jump in revenues.’

She claims, however, that due to her removal these opportunities were lost. ‘On February 2, I was removed from my position as CEO of Blackrock Cabs Limited without any notice and prevented from entering the premises or continuing its trade.

This left myself and my five children in a position where my only source of income was unilaterally cut off.

‘All in all, neither I nor my children at my mother have ever been treated or commented on in such an appalling way, where my first concern throughout my time as an employee of Blackrock Cabs was to the creditors and, most importantly, employees of the company.’

O’Brien and Ms Nagle were society darlings who hosted black-tie charity balls and mingled with Ireland’s business and entertainment elite.

But their picture perfect world came crashing down when it emerged that O’Brien was funding their lavish lifestyle by pulling ‘suckers’ into a high-stakes pyramid scheme.

The 48-year-old’s scam pulled in a number of close family and friends and led to him being dubbed ‘Ireland’s Bernie Madoff’ for running a similar ‘Ponzi’ scheme.

Once feted by Image magazine as one of the most glamorous women in Ireland, last year Ms Nagle had to ask a High Court judge for money to feed her children when her husband’s assets were frozen.

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