Developer cleared of corrupt payments to politician
Michael Ryan had pleaded not guilty to paying then councillor Fred Forsey jnr €80,000 in 2006
Michael Ryan (60), with addresses at The Sweepstakes, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 and Al Eile Stud, Kilgobnet, Dungarvan, has been found not guilty of making corrupt payments to a politician in 2006. Photograph: Patrick Browne
A millionaire property developer walked free from court yesterday after a jury found him not guilty of making corrupt payments to a politician in 2006.
Michael Ryan (60), with addresses at The Sweepstakes, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 and Al Eile Stud, Kilgobnet, Dungarvan, pleaded not guilty to three charges of making corrupt payments totalling €80,000 in 2006.
The three payments were alleged to have been made to Fred Forsey jnr, who was then a member of Dungarvan town council, as a reward for him using his position as a councillor to help secure the rezoning of a piece of agricultural land to allow industrial and residential development.
Mr Ryan told gardaí the payments were a loan and had nothing to do with the land. A jury returned unanimous “not guilty” verdicts yesterday afternoon after just under an hour of deliberation.
Mr Ryan gave a “thumbs-up” sign to his family and friends in the courtroom when the verdicts were read out and there were cheers from his supporters.
Mr Forsey’s former wife Jenny Forsey, a prosecution witness, had told the trial last week that Michael Ryan spoke with Fred Forsey in The Moorings pub one night in July of 2006.
During that summer, their finances “weren’t good”, she said, and wouldn’t have allowed them book a holiday. But on August 23rd or 24th, her husband arrived home one day and told her they were going on a family holiday to Rome.
They departed with their three children on August 25th and, in Cork Airport, she noticed Fred had a “substantial” amount of money in his wallet.
When they arrived home from the holiday, he started buying things for the house like carpets, a three-piece suite and other furniture.
Evidence was also heard from a number of politicians including John Deasy, who said he was contacted by both Michael Ryan and Fred Forsey in 2006 about a planned industrial park and residential development for a 32-hectare piece of land outside Dungarvan.
He was met with “scepticism” when he raised the issue with planning officials, however, and could get no details of businesses who might locate on the land if Mr Ryan and his ORS Partnership secured planning permission.
Michael Ryan himself did not give evidence during the trial, but records of a number of interviews conducted by gardaí with him, after he was arrested in 2009, were read to the jury.
In these, Mr Ryan repeatedly denied that the payments of €60,000, €10,000 and €10,000 which he made to Fred Forsey in August, October and December of 2006, were corrupt or in any way connected with the land outside Dungarvan.
He told detectives the money was a loan to Mr Forsey, who had approached him earlier that summer and told him he wanted to buy two houses in Dungarvan for the purposes of selling them on before the contracts closed, and needed a loan of €70,000.
The €10,000 in December was for “extras”, Mr Ryan told gardaí. He always intended to get repaid and was “anxious” to get his money back, he said, but Mr Forsey went to live in Australia in 2007 and he never did get paid.
In his closing speech to the jury yesterday, Alex Owens SC, prosecuting, said: “There’s only one reasonable explanation for the payments and that’s that they were a corrupt payment, because Mr Forsey was on the payroll,” Mr Owens said.
Defending, Patrick Gageby SC said Mr Forsey “brought nothing to this matter” in terms of the rezoning of the land. “Nothing that a developer would consider worthy of such money.”
The trial heard that part of the 32 hectares at Ballygeoghegan outside Dungarvan was eventually rezoned for industrial use on a vote by Waterford County Council, but this decision was reversed by the minister for the environment at the time, John Gormley.
After the trial concluded, developer Michael Ryan told the media he was “very excited” for his family and felt “vindicated”, but said his thoughts were with Fred Forsey, who was convicted last year of accepting corrupt payments and is currently serving a four-year prison term.
“The only sad part about it is that there’s an innocent man in jail, and I think we need to try and do something about that. He’s certainly not guilty, I’m not guilty, he wasn’t guilty, I know he wasn’t guilty, and I think the man should be walking out of jail tomorrow morning.”
He said the investigation into his business dealings had “gone on too long”, since 2008, and that statements made to the jury during the trial “weren’t true”. There should be “a big effort to get Fred out of jail”, he said, and he “certainly will” be making representations on behalf of the former politician.
“I know and Fred knows and we were the only two people in the conversation, I know he’s innocent, he really is. He’s not guilty. There were 17 other people I gave loans to. Some had agreements, some hadn’t.
“The defence wanted me to name people but, in fairness, most of the people were friends and you certainly wouldn’t be putting them up on the stand.”
Fred Forsey being in jail was “the dampener on the day”.