On the mysterious trail of 'Mr No'

Sat, May 31, 2008, 01:00

Declan Ganley's Libertas has the largest budget of any group involved in the referendum campaign. But who is Ganley and what is his history?

LIBERTAS, THE group campaigning for a No vote in the Lisbon Treaty Referendum, said this week that it intends to spend in excess of €1.3 million on its campaign. This will make its budget by far the largest of all the bodies and political parties involved in a campaign that will affect the future direction of the European Union as well as Ireland's position in the Union.

As far as can be ascertained, Libertas is simply a name being used by Galway-based Declan Ganley (39) for the expression of his views on the treaty and the direction of the European Union. But just as the details concerning the source of the money being spent by Libertas are obscure, so too the story behind the apparent wealth of Ganley is far from clear.

Ganley, who calls himself a serial entrepreneur, operates from his substantial home, Moyne Park House, in Tuam, Co Galway. He set up there in the 1990s and is married with four children. He also has a home in Washington DC.

Ganley has been involved in forestry, communications, and a diverse variety of other ventures, but there is no evidence available to show that any of them have ever made money.

A request for an interview with Ganley, or with a representative of Libertas, so that the points being made in this article could be discussed, was declined. "We will not be co-operating with this piece. You are free, of course, to write what you wish, provided you can back it up," Libertas spokesman John McGuirk said in response to the request.

Ganley was part of a consortium, Cellstar, that made an unsuccessful bid for the mobile phone licence granted to Denis O'Brien's Esat Digifone in 1996. Adornis, an online jewellery retailer that went belly-up in 2000, lost Ganley a reported €7 million. He expressed an interest in acquiring Irish Fertiliser Industries in 2001 but the deal did not go ahead.

Likewise, UK-registered companies he owns have unimpressive records. His Ganley Group website (ganleygroup.com) lists a number of his previous business ventures. One is Capital Route, which the website says is "a leading European chauffeur drive company, defining a new era for top quality customer service combining old-world European traditions and codes of chauffeuring, with the latest applications that technology can offer."

But UK Companies House records show Capital Route Private Hire Ltd is now dissolved. The latest financial filings are for 2005, when it had accumulated losses then of £400,000. A website associated with the company simply provides links to a wide range of businesses involved in the car sector, such as Avis, Peugeot, and Nissan. Such clashes, between what is being claimed by Ganley and what can be ascertained when journalists seek to probe behind the claims, is typical.

Ganley was born in London of Irish parents who moved to Galway when he was 13 years old. He finished his secondary education there and then emigrated to London.

By way of working in Lloyds, he says, he became involved with business dealings in the former Soviet Union and this in time led to his becoming involved in the export of timber and metals from Russia to Latvia and onwards from there. In preparation for a profile in this newspaper in 1999, Ganley said the timber exporting business he had in Latvia in the years immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union grew so large that at one stage it was "contributing four per cent of Latvian GDP". He said he was appointed as a foreign economic adviser to the first Latvian government after independence in 1991.

Yet people in Latvia who had made inquiries about Ganley at the time were unable to find anyone who'd heard of him. Sources in the Irish embassy in Warsaw, which was accredited to Latvia, told The Irish Times in 1999 it had become aware of the reports about Ganley's activities in Latvia, and had made discreet inquiries. But no trace could be found by the embassy of Ganley's business dealings in Latvia, or of his acting as an advisor to the government.

When this was put to him, his response was: "Good . . . In some countries you need to run silent and deep."

Ganley was involved in an extraordinary venture in Albania in the 1990s called the Anglo Adriatic Investment Fund. The fund collected privatisation vouchers that the Albanian government was giving to its citizens in the wake of the collapse of the communist regime. People who contributed vouchers became shareholders in the fund and it was widely reported that at one stage the fund had 450,000 shareholders and vouchers with a face value of more than $120 million.

The fund was one of three voucher investment funds in operation at the time but, when the Albanian economy was thrown into turmoil by the unrelated growth and collapse of pyramid schemes, the investment funds ceased to function and legislative changes in Albania rendered them virtually useless.

The former Fianna Fáil TD, the late Liam Lawlor, carried out work for Ganley in Albania during the 1990s, Ganley told the Mahon Tribunal some months ago. Albanian news reports from September 1996 record Ganley and Lawlor meeting the then Albanian deputy prime minister, Tritan Shehu, to discuss economic links between Albania and Ireland.

The Los Angeles Timesran an article in 2004 about an attempt to get the contract for Iraq's new mobile phone network in the wake of the US invasion. The consortium involved included Ganley and his long-time associate, an American called Dan De Marino, who was also involved in Anglo Adriatic. The Iraqi venture failed.

De Marino, who worked for the administration of George Bush snr and who was asked by his son's administration in 2004 to assess certain operations in Iraq, is a director of Ganley's latest venture, US-based Rivada Networks.

Rivada is based in Delaware in the US and there is no information available as to its turnover, profitability or its number of employees. Jennifer Horowitz, a spokeswoman based in Washington DC, said when contacted that no such information would be disclosed.

What is striking about Rivada is the list of directors on its website. They include a former lieutenant general and two former admirals, one of whom, James M Loy, is a former deputy secretary of Homeland Security, and is on the board of Lockheed Martin. Another director, John J Kelly, is a former air force captain who "has held high-level security clearances".

The website says Rivada "provides rapid-deployment equipment to extend the reach and coverage of commercial networks and replace them locally when infrastructure is destroyed during a disaster" and that it has "deployed" its product to a number of customers, including the US military's Northern Command. But there is no information on what these contracts might be worth.

GANLEY IS DESCRIBED AS being the chairman, chief executive and founder of Rivada. However the most recently filed accounts for Rivada's Irish subsidiary, Rivada Networks Ltd, state that in 2006 Ganley had no shareholding in the US parent company. Horowitz was asked last week if Ganley still had no shareholding in Rivada, but has not as yet responded.

Asked if Rivada had made any contributions to Libertas, Horowitz said: "Rivada (and its set of companies) has not made any donations to Libertas, as that has been prohibited by Mr Ganley." Ganley told a press conference last week that there were no overlaps between Libertas and Rivada but it would seem this is incorrect.

The Libertas Institute Ltd is a company limited by guarantee that was incorporated in October 2006 with an address in Moyne Park House. Ganley, his brother Sean, and five others, four of whom work for Rivada, are the founding members of the company.

The accounts for Libertas for 2007 state that it had no overheads and no administrative expenses. The executive director of Libertas, Naoise Nunn, has told The Irish Times he is an employee of Rivada. He said he was employed by Rivada in October 2006. Asked what he did, he said he mostly did work for Libertas, but also did work for Rivada. Asked who assigned him to his duties, he said Ganley.

Under Irish electoral legislation a body such as Libertas must register with the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) once it receives a donation exceeding €126.97. A donation under the law includes the supply of services without payment. Libertas first registered with the commission in December 2007.

McGuirk told The Irish Timesthat Rivada employees provided services to Libertas during 2007 during their "free time".

McGuirk says Libertas is being funded by donations and will not say if it has access to loans. The legislation covering bodies such as Libertas obliges them to lodge all donations received to a dedicated account, and to supply an annual statement on the account to Sipo by March 31st of each year.

There is no obligation to disclose the source of the lodgements made.

Groups such as Libertas may not receive an individual donation in excess of €6,348 in any one year and may not accept donations from non-Irish citizens resident abroad, or from foreign corporate bodies that do not maintain an office here.

The first known mention by Declan Ganley of the idea of establishing something called Libertas appears in a paper he wrote for the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), in Philadelphia, in December 2003. The FPRI is a conservative think tank founded in the 1950s which has a tradition of promoting military action and a strong defence capability in pursuit of US foreign policy goals. Ganley's paper is the second of two by him on the FPRI website (fpri.org). The earlier paper was also published in 2003 and had the title Europe's Direction: A Voice From Ireland. In it he complained about European criticism of the US invasion of Iraq and voiced some of the ideas that were the focus of his second paper.

The second paper was called Europe's Constitutional Treaty; A Threat to Democracy and How to Avoid It. In it Ganley argued that the constitution then being proposed was "an assault by the European elite" that would "further encroach on Europe's libertarian democratic society and its ability to hold those who govern accountable for their actions."

He criticised plans for a European President and Minister for Foreign Affairs. Ganley argued that there was a need for new, truly pan-European political organisations that could give a voice to a broader European vision and overcome "groupings and parties based on legacy national organisations".

"Rather than try to define itself in contradistinction to the United States, this new Europe must be an equal partner and influence in the worldwide extension of justice and liberty. Such a political party - I will for the sake of discussion call it Libertas - will need to challenge the engrained composition of the convention in local and regional elections, as well as running candidates at member-state and EU levels. The old structures need shaking up."

Ganley's Libertas fits neatly with the views expressed in his FPRI paper. It has a larger agenda than fighting for a No vote in the Lisbon Treaty Referendum.

As it states on its website (libertas.org), Libertas "seeks to initiate and provoke enlightened discussion on the European Union, its relevance to its member states and peoples and its role in world affairs having regard to our shared values of peace, democracy, individual liberty and free markets."