By Sarah O'Connor
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland jailed former billionaire Sean Quinn on Friday for failing to disclose assets he was hiding abroad, completing the fall from grace of the richest man in Ireland's "Celtic Tiger" boom.
Quinn, whose four billion euro ($5.2 billion) business empire collapsed after a disastrous investment in the now failed Anglo Irish Bank, is the first major player jailed in connection with the country's economic collapse, having come to personify its boom and bust.
He was found guilty of contempt of court in June for violating an order not to block state-owned Anglo, since renamed the Irish Banking Resolution Corporation (IBRC), from seizing foreign property assets worth an estimated 500 million euros.
He was initially spared prison and ordered to disclose information regarding assets spread as far afield as Russia, Ukraine and Belize.
But Justice Elizabeth Dunne told a Dublin high court on Friday that Quinn, 66, only had himself to blame over contempt she described as "nothing short of outrageous."
"I cannot ignore the extent and degree of contempt of court on his part, the appropriate term by reasons of non compliance with the orders is 9 weeks," said Dunne, who deemed Quinn "evasive and uncooperative" when giving evidence.
The father of five, who used to fly around Europe on his Falcon jet sealing property deals, sat in court with a tissue held to his face. His eyes bloodshot, he stared straight ahead as the sentence was handed down.
The judge said she would consider placing a stay on the jail term until a Supreme Court appeal against the contempt is heard, but Quinn opted to start his term immediately, meaning he will spend Christmas behind bars.
He had tears in his eyes as he said goodbye to supporters and family members before being led out of the court by police. He told reporters he had made mistakes but that "whole thing is a charade."
Quinn's son Sean and nephew Peter, who were also found guilty of contempt, were handed three-month jail terms in July. Peter Quinn fled the jurisdiction to Northern Ireland while his cousin served a full sentence.
Ireland's costly banking rescue helped push the country into seeking an international bailout two years ago this month. It is the subject of intense negotiations in Europe to ease the burden as Dublin attempts to exit its program next year.
In the country's boom years, Quinn turned a rural quarrying operation on his family farm into a global business empire spanning wind farms, cement plants and hotels, only to become the subject of the largest ever Irish bankruptcy order four years after becoming its richest man.
He is still regarded by some as a hero thanks to his role as a big employer in his home county of Cavan. Thousands of locals, including sporting figures and politicians, have twice held rallies since August to support him in the court proceedings.
Quinn's use of loans to make the ill-fated investments in the former Anglo resulted in the failed lender pursuing him for debts of almost 3 billion euros in a global treasure hunt from courtrooms in Dublin to the British Virgin Islands.
Quinn, who told a court earlier this year that he was down to his last 11,000 euros, an aging Mercedes and 166 acres of land, was "far from being the person who had his finger on the button", his lawyers said on Thursday when claiming he was not in a position to reverse the movement of assets.
With Quinn unable to repay most of the debts, IBRC have been focusing on clawing back assets mainly in Russia and the Ukraine but lawyers for the bank admitted in court this week that the chances of recovery are minimal.
Irish taxpayers have been frustrated by the slow pace in holding anyone to account over a banking rescue that used more than 60 billion euros of their money - equivalent to 40 percent of annual economic output - to save its reckless lenders.
Three executives at Anglo, including former chairman and chief executive Sean FitzPatrick, are due to stand trial next year over a long-running fraud investigation. ($1 = 0.7717 euros)
(Writing by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)