Comments by Senator raise ghost of money trail at Moriarty

Fri, Jul 20, 2012, 01:00

BACKGROUND:Any new material which emerges will be of interest to parties seeking to sue the State

THE COMMENTS yesterday of Cavan Senator Diarmuid Wilson concerning Doncaster Rovers Football Club raise again one of the more contentious aspects of the so-called money trail element of the Moriarty tribunal.

During its mammoth inquiry into alleged financial links between politician Michael Lowry and businessman Denis O’Brien, the tribunal looked at a number of English property transactions, of which the Doncaster deal was the largest.

The company that owned the football club and the lease on its stadium, was bought in 1998 for £4.3 million.

Lowry told the tribunal he had nothing to do with the deal, while O’Brien said it was his deal and had nothing to do with Lowry.

Lowry told the tribunal that other, lesser, property deals, in Cheadle and Mansfield, were his and had nothing to do with O’Brien. O’Brien’s evidence supported this.

An important aspect of all three deals was that they involved the same English solicitor, Christopher Vaughan, acting for the purchaser, and also involved Omagh-based land scout, Kevin Phelan, and a Dublin accountant, Aidan Phelan (no relation to Kevin Phelan and a business associate of O’Brien’s).

Mr Justice Michael Moriarty accepted the initial account he was given concerning Doncaster, but then The Irish Times reported that a letter existed, from Vaughan to Lowry, dated September 1998, which was written on the understanding that Lowry was involved in the Doncaster deal.

As a result, the tribunal, following an unsuccessful legal challenge from O’Brien to stop it doing so, held public hearings into the issue.

In his report published last year, Mr Justice Moriarty found that, at the time of the Doncaster purchase, “Mr Lowry did have an involvement in the Doncaster Rovers transaction, which it was intended would entail a payment to, or the conferral of a pecuniary advantage on, Mr Lowry by Mr Denis O’Brien”.

He said the tribunal had been unable to determine the precise nature of Lowry’s interest.

While the tribunal “could comment on what it believes may have been the nature of Lowry’s interest and involvement”, to do so would be “unduly speculative”.

The Doncaster property now belongs to an O’Brien company called Westferry.

When O’Brien went to the High Court in September 2004 to try to stop the tribunal holding hearings into Doncaster, it emerged that Lowry’s accountant, Denis O’Connor, a partner with Brophy, Butler, Thornton, Foxrock, Co Dublin, had been involved in discussions with Kevin Phelan over fees Phelan claimed he was due from the Doncaster deal.

The tribunal had been given Vaughan’s files on the English transactions, but Phelan knew the files had been doctored. He used this knowledge in his campaign to be paid more money, and in the end was paid £150,000 by Westferry.

The import of what Senator Wilson said yesterday is that there is in existence, somewhere, more material that may support the tribunal’s finding that Lowry was involved in the Doncaster deal at some stage.

It also seems this material was not given to the tribunal during its hearings.

Given the findings already made by the tribunal in relation to Doncaster, it is unclear whether any new material in this regard could have any effect on cost orders being made by the tribunal.

Whatever about the costs issue, any new material that may emerge and that purports to deal with matters concerning O’Brien and Lowry, will be of great interest to the parties seeking to sue the State.

Lowry had no comment to make when contacted yesterday.