LONDON (AP) — Ben Dunne, an Irish business tycoon who survived a kidnapping by the IRA and later triggered a scandal that shook the cozy world of Ireland’s politics, has died. He was 74.
Dunne’s son Robert confirmed his death to the news website Extra.ie. Irish media reported that the elder Dunn died of a heart attack Saturday during a trip to Dubai. Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs said it was aware of the sudden death of an Irish citizen in Dubai and was providing consular assistance.
The Cork-born retail baron’s name was one of the most ubiquitous in Ireland thanks to the supermarket chain Dunnes Stores, founded by his father, and the Ben Dunne Gyms fitness centers.
In 1981, masked gunmen from the Irish Republican Army kidnapped Dunne as he was on his way to open a store in Northern Ireland. He was released a week later, reportedly after a ransom was paid.
In 1992 he was arrested in Florida after threatening to jump from a 17th floor hotel balcony in Orlando and charged with cocaine possession.
His sister took over the family business and commissioned an accounting review that uncovered details of Dunne’s payments totaling millions of dollars to politicians, including former Prime Minister Charles Haughey. The revelations caused a huge scandal and inspired mammoth state probes into the scale of under-the-table lobbying in Irish politics.
Ireland's current prime minister, Leo Varadkar, said Dunne “really was larger than life.”
“He led a life less ordinary and in turn he made some mistakes in life,” Varadkar said. “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's son Robert said: “Overall, in the final analysis, he was a good and decent man.”
Dunne is survived by his wife, Mary, and their four children.