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Inside Ben Dunne’s life, from business empire to being kidnapped & drug downfall



IRISH businessman Ben Dunne led a colourful life as he rose to become one of Ireland’s best-known business figures.

Dunne, 74, who tragically died after suffering a poolside heart attack in Dubai, was marred in drugs, sex and financial scandals.


Ben Dunne suffered a heart attack in DubaiCredit: News Group Newspapers Ltd
He was one of Ireland's most renowned characters


He was one of Ireland’s most renowned charactersCredit: Getty Images – Getty

Yet, despite being ousted from the family business, he never stepped away from boldly exploring new ventures.

Dunne was no stranger to headlines and tough times across his life, despite being born into one of the nation’s most successful families.

In 1981 he had been kidnapped by the IRA and held for seven days as part of a ransom bid.

There has always been speculation, although never confirmed, that a hefty sum was paid for his safe return.

The years that followed involved scandals around vice, dodgy deals and high-end political schmoozing.

A joke phrase linked to the Co Cork-born businessman at the time was, ‘Ben there, Dunne that, bought the Taoiseach.’

In 1992, then aged 42, Dunne had been caught red-handed with a bag of cocaine and a prostitute in a Florida penthouse.

His antics, during a golfing holiday, split the well-known family and forced him from his CEO post in the business.

Soon afterwards unusual transactions in his accounts implicated Dunne, former Taoiseach Charles Haughey and scores of Ireland’s elite in an offshore tax evasion scam.

One Fine Gael and other Fianna Fail politicians were among those linked to the scandal.

In 2011, the Moriarty Tribunal concluded there had been “breathtaking” corruption.


In 2005, Dunne was in the headlines again when he paid £3,000,000 for a 21-acre former home of BBC Football Club and other BBC sports facilities in London.

His initial plan to use the land to build a sprawling leisure centre was dropped and instead, he applied to open a giant cemetery, but that sparked fury and was turned down.

In 2009, he set up, a website in direct competition with Buy and Sell, Done Deal, and others.

But, beset by glitches and related issues, it shut down within a year.

At the time Dunne said the “Internet is one of my failures.

“I can’t work it out.

“I can’t get people to advertise on for nothing and I can’t get them to pay €3.”


Dunne went on to open a successful chain of fitness centres called Ben Dunne Gyms.

He told recently how that business had been hit hard by the pandemic.

It forced him to close six of his 12 outlets, scrapping a number of rent deals.

Yet last year the gym business, with outlets in Dublin, Meath and Laois, swung back into the good times to record operating profits of €3 million.

He said later that he believed “paying rent is a mug’s game”.

He went on: “I didn’t play golf for three years while all of this was going on.


“When your business is in trouble something has to give and you can’t play golf three days a week with your business under the cosh – well I couldn’t do it anyway.”

Last year he announced he and his wife Mary were selling part of their extensive personal art collection in an exhibition that was set to generate millions in sales.

The Mary and Ben Dunne Collection, featuring 39 paintings, was displayed in Dublin and Belfast.

Among the collection was John Lavery’s Sketch For Pro-Cathedral, Dublin 1922 – the painting of the funeral of Michael Collins.

Paying tribute to Dunne following his death, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar referred to the businessman’s scandalous past.

The Fine Gael leader said: “He led a life less ordinary and in turn he made some mistakes in life. The best people do.

“He never allowed that to defeat him or hold him back.

“He touched the lives of tens of thousands who will mourn his loss.”

Dunne was no stranger to headlines and tough times across his life


Dunne was no stranger to headlines and tough times across his life

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