Property deals in England linked to Lowry and O'Brien investigated by tribunal
BACKGROUND:The inquiry by the Moriarty tribunal into three controversial property deals in England in the late 1990s involved several spectacular developments, wrtites COLM KEENA,Public Affairs Correspondent
With the publication of yesterday’s Sunday Independent, it is clear that the controversy still has a bit of mileage in it.
Although an almost identical cast of characters was involved in all three purchases, the tribunal was told that two involved Michael Lowry, and not Denis O’Brien, while a third involved O’Brien and had nothing to do with Lowry.
Properties in Mansfield and Cheadle, in England, were bought in March and September 1999, at a total cost of £695,000.
Lowry told the tribunal he was involved in both and O’Brien told the tribunal they had nothing to do with him.
The opposite was the case in relation to a deal in Doncaster, the two men told the tribunal.
Doncaster Rovers Football Club Ltd, which had a lease on the Doncaster stadium, was bought for £4.3 million in August 1998. The idea was that the stadium could be redeveloped at a profit.
The same solicitor, Christopher Vaughan, acted for the purchaser in all three deals. The land agent Kevin Phelan, from Omagh, Co Tyrone, was also involved in all three deals, as was O’Brien’s then accountant and business associate, Aidan Phelan (no relation of Kevin Phelan).
Initially, in 2001, the tribunal accepted the evidence that the Doncaster deal did not involve Lowry.
Then, in January 2003, The Irish Times disclosed the existence of a September 1998 letter from Vaughan to Lowry in which the former referred to Lowry’s “total involvement” in the Doncaster deal.
The Irish Times also disclosed that the letter had been produced at arbitration hearings in London aimed at settling a dispute between the vendors and purchasers of Doncaster Rovers Football Club.
O’Brien’s father, Denis O’Brien snr, was involved in the arbitration hearings and made a complaint to the London police afterwards, alleging blackmail. No charges were ever brought.
Arising from these reports, the tribunal began to look again at the Doncaster deal. When it moved to open public hearings, O’Brien challenged the move in the High Court. He said the deal was his deal, had nothing to do with Lowry, and so did not come within the tribunal’s terms of reference.
He lost the case and also lost the appeal he brought to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, in September 2005, The Irish Times reported the existence of a video purportedly showing a meeting between Kevin Phelan and the vendors of Doncaster Rovers. The main owner was an English businessman, Ken Richardson, who has served time for seeking to have the stadium burned down. Mark Weaver was a minor shareholder and an associate of Richardson’s.