Cab seeks to question Denis O’Brien on tribunal findings

Michael Lowry indicates he has does not expect to be interviewed by the bureau

Denis O’Brien: An interview with the businessman has yet to take place but will be sought. Photograph: The Irish Times

Denis O’Brien: An interview with the businessman has yet to take place but will be sought. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

The Criminal Assets Bureau will look to interview businessman Denis O’Brien about the findings of the Moriarty tribunal report after it has gathered further material, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

While a number of relevant witnesses have already been interviewed, an interview with Mr O’Brien has yet to take place but will be sought, according to the source.

Mr O’Brien, and former minister for transport, energy and communications Michael Lowry are the two main figures in the tribunal’s final report, the bulk of which is devoted to the 1995 mobile phone licence competition.

Mr Lowry said he had not been interviewed by the bureau. “I haven’t been, and I never saw any grounds as to why I should be,” he said. A request for a comment from a spokesman for Mr O’Brien met with no response by yesterday evening.

International treaties

A number of people have already been interviewed. The information being gathered by Cab includes material from locations that include the Isle of Man and Spain, where transactions investigated by the tribunal took place. The bureau has to make use of international treaties to gather the information and the process is proving slow. The final Moriarty tribunal report was published in March 2011. It found Mr Lowry “secured the winning” of the State’s second mobile phone licence competition for Mr O’Brien’s consortium, Esat Digifone.

It also found Mr O’Brien made payments to, and supported a loan to, Mr Lowry and that the transactions were “demonstrably referable to the acts and conduct of Mr Lowry”. The two men have said the tribunal was wrong in its findings.

Transactions

The transactions investigated by the tribunal included £150,000 that went from an account associated with Mr O’Brien in the Isle of Man, to an account in Jersey of the late businessman David Austin. The money then went from Mr Austin’s account to an account of Mr Lowry’s in the Isle of Man.

The money arrived in Mr Lowry’s account in October 1996, when he was a serving minister and a senior figure in the Fine Gael party. It was returned to Mr Austin’s account early in 1997, on the day the Oireachtas established the McCracken (Dunnes Payments) tribunal, which also looked at Mr Lowry’s finances.

Mr Lowry told the tribunal the payment from Mr Austin was a loan. Mr O’Brien said the payment to Mr Austin was in return for a house in Spain.

The Moriarty Tribunal also investigated property dealings in the UK which involved a payment to Mr Lowry and support for a loan that the tribunal decided came from Mr O’Brien. Both men said Mr O’Brien had nothing to do with the deals.

Cab’s remit involves investigating the suspected proceeds of criminal conduct. If such assets are identified, the agency can seize them. Tribunal reports and evidence gathered by tribunals cannot be used as evidence in court so Cab, in investigating matters covered by the Moriarty tribunal, has to gather its own evidence.