THE DAPPER DEFRAUDER; Yesterday, Former Solicitor Thomas Byrne Was Found Guilty of Stealing [Euro]52million in Property Loans. Here, We Tell the Full Story of Ireland's Biggest Ever Fraud Trial - from the Old Friends He Robbed to the Developer He Blames
Byline: by Brian Carroll
THOMAS BYRNE placed his leather man-bag to one side in the dock, and his folded, green check overcoat to the other. Dapper, in a sober, grey suit uplifted by a striped shirt and patterned tie -- just one of many eye-catching outfits he donned during the 27-day trial -- the 47-year-old gently tapped his black, soft leather shoes and waited to hear the verdict.
Mr Byrne, a separated father of three, briefly exchanged glances with his boyfriend Tom -- some ten years his junior -- who was sitting in the body of the Central Criminal Court and had accompanied the disgraced solicitor throughout the trial.
As the jury foreman read out unanimous guilty verdicts on all 50 counts, Byrne kept his eyes closed, only looking up once to catch Tom's eye. His fraud involved the eye-watering amount of [euro]52million. He was then taken into custody with sentencing to follow on December 2. Over five days in the witness box, Byrne had been charismatic, charming, and vulnerable as he spun the jury a tearful tale as colourful and tightly wound as the Windsor knot at his neck. One man, he claimed, had forced, threatened and coerced him into defrauding six banks of [euro]52million in loans. Crying and snivelling in the witness box, Byrne blamed practically everything on property developer John Kelly.
Kelly, 50, was depicted by Byrne as a 'thug in a suit' and a man with a 'vampire-like' voracious thirst for money. The jury heard about a shallow, greedy developer from Crumlin, who had aggressively compelled Byrne to borrow money for him from the banks. In Byrne's eyes, Kelly was perfect fodder for the jury -- a Celtic tiger villain who had teamed up with the recklessly lending banks and ruined Thomas Byrne's simple life. The jury didn't buy it.
Self-made, Kelly had gone from driving trucks in the transport business, to owning a fleet of [euro]250,000 Aston Martins and 32 houses in four countries.
Byrne told the jury that Kelly had a [euro]2million overdraft facility with AIB, and the James Bond fan had a [euro]6million yacht, Thunderball, moored near his exclusive Marbella apartment. But, according to his erstwhile business partner, Kelly had no income. He would use Byrne to get loans from AIB, Bank of Ireland, NIB and Permanent TSB, then insist that the money was transferred from Byrne's accounts into his AIB account on the Naas Road. Among 5,000 documents collected by the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigations were bank statements showing millions moving from Byrne's account to Kelly's, which were exhibited to the jury.
Byrne portrayed Kelly as an aggressive, greedy man, who lived in a [euro]5million mansion at Hunter's Moon, Kilquade, Co. Wicklow, but refused to pay his taxes.
During his time on the stand, Byrne would refuse to directly answer questions under cross-examination and instead would drop details about John Kelly's tax affairs, his love life or his connections to the PDs and the Labour Party.
Byrne claimed that, because Kelly's tax affairs weren't in order, the developer needed to use him as a front man to get loans from the banks. 'Mr Kelly had never paid tax in this jurisdiction, so obviously that was a problem,' Byrne claimed with a thin smile. As it was a criminal trial, Kelly never got the opportunity to respond to Byrne's allegations.
Byrne also claimed he had gotten no benefit from the [euro]52million of loans, and only carried on borrowing because Kelly had threatened to kill his daughter, Molly.
After the Law Society shut down his practice on October 18, 2007, Byrne said he feared he would be killed by Kelly -- or 'people he knew up North' -- in a freezer at the back of a supermarket in Rathmines.
'From 2004 onwards the financial requirements he put on me were so vast I couldn't cope. I started drinking and taking tablets,' he whined. Byrne wept again as he told how the banks were to blame for queuing up to give him millions on the basis of flimsy paperwork. …