Troubling picture of Michael Lowry trying to manage information
The Tipperary TD so far will not answer questions on the recorded phone call
Michael Lowry. The tribunal was inquiring into DRFC deal when the tape was made. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
A transcript of the conversation was published three weeks ago by the Sunday Independent .
The conversation does not appear to raise issues for the findings of the Moriarty tribunal other than to support them.
However the tape does suggest a troubling picture of Lowry operating behind the scenes seeking to manage what information the tribunal would be given in the course of what it called its Doncaster Rovers module.
A second, and probably more troubling issue, is Lowry’s admission, in the wake of the publication of transcript, that he did indeed make a £248,624 payment to Phelan in August 2002.
There are a number of aspects to this, not least the fact that Lowry, through his solicitors, told the tribunal in 2007 that a £65,000 payment he made to Phelan in April 2002 was the only payment he made to the Northern Ireland land scout.
In his tribunal report, Mr Justice Michael Moriarty concluded that Lowry was at an early stage involved in some way in the 1998 Doncaster Rovers transaction, despite the evidence from Lowry, businessman Denis O’Brien and others, that the deal belonged solely to O’Brien.
The transcript of the phone conversation arguably lends credence to the finding because of Lowry’s evident anxiety that Phelan might communicate something to the tribunal that would link him to the £4.3 million deal.
The deal involved the purchase in August 1998 of Doncaster Rovers Football Club Ltd (DRFC), which owned the lease on a stadium. Phelan, who never gave evidence to the tribunal, was the land scout who spotted the development potential of the site. He was to get a percentage of any profits.
The transaction was effected by a company called Westferry Ltd buying DRFC. At the outset, Westferry was owned by Phelan’s Isle of Man trust, the Glebe Trust. By the time the transaction was concluded, Westferry was owned by an O’Brien trust.
The conversation between Lowry and Phelan was taped in 2004, by Phelan, who gave it to the Sunday Independent . At the time the tribunal was conducting private inquiries into the DRFC transaction.
Two years earlier, a Dublin accountant by the name of Denis O’Connor held negotiations with Phelan concerning demands Phelan was making for fees he said he was owed, from the DRFC deal and from other English deals the tribunal had been told involved Lowry, but not O’Brien. O’Connor apparently negotiated with Phelan for both O’Brien and Lowry.
The tribunal, in its final report, said that the 2002 payments made as a result of these negotiations – £65,000 by Lowry and £150,000 by O’Brien – led to Phelan becoming involved in the presentation of false evidence to the tribunal.
“The tribunal is satisfied that [an exchange of correspondence between Phelan and the English solicitor who acted for Westferry in the DRFC deal, Christopher Vaughan ] which was provided to the tribunal, was a choreographed falsehood in which Mr Kevin Phelan would not have agreed to participate but for the payment of those fees.”
By 2004, Phelan was annoyed about what O’Connor had told others concerning his view of what Phelan had been up to two years earlier.
This is what is behind Lowry’s comment, on the tape, that “there’s nobody trying to f***ing piss on you” and that he and O’Brien would be telling the tribunal that they believed Phelan was due the fees.
Lowry asks Phelan not say anything to the tribunal about the “the 250”. This is a reference to the £248,624 payment the tribunal was never told about. At one stage Phelan refers to the £150,000 payment he received and says “that f***ing agreement with Westferry was confidential. That’s only half the f***ing agreement.”
Lowry has told this newspaper that the £246,624 came from a Finnish refrigeration company, Norpe OY, and was paid by it on his behalf. Lowry’s refrigeration business, Garuda, was the Irish agent for Norpe and was owed commission, he said.
The transaction was dealt with properly through the Garuda books, he added, and the payment concerned a land deal in Wigan and was not connected with DRFC.
The chief executive of Norpe OY, Matti Virtanen, has told The Irish Times that the company has changed hands since 2002, and that there are no longer any files or personnel at the group that would allow it comment on Lowry’s claims.
In one sense the most extraordinary aspect of the whole affair is that another large amount of money has popped up.
After Lowry resigned from cabinet in 1996, he and Garuda became the focus of Revenue inquiries that led to an eventual overall settlement of €1.4 million. He was the subject of numerous inquiries that, as well as costing the State hundreds of millions of euros, presumably also cost him a lot.
The accounts of Garuda show the following after tax profits (losses): 2000 – €64,002; 2001 – €82,771; 2002 – (€131,977) and 2003 – €42,823.
That comes to a net profit of €58,619 over the years straddling the £248,624 Norpe payment.