Witness in Quinn case changes her evidence

Thu, Jun 28, 2012, 01:00

A DUBLIN barrister has changed her evidence on a key issue in a dispute between businessman Tony Quinn and other directors in an oil company.

Caroline Williams, a long-time friend of Mr Quinn, told the court she had made a mistake in her statement.

Lawyers for Sheila McCaffrey, who is suing Mr Quinn and International Natural Energy (INE) after being excluded from the company, accused Ms Williams of changing her evidence to suit INE’s case.

The issue centres on revisions to the operating agreement of INE that Ms Williams was contracted to make.

These were agreed by directors at a meeting in December 2007 but Ms McCaffrey claims this version was subsequently altered. She alleges there are differences in her signature on the two documents which prove that the latter one was forged.

At the start of her evidence, Ms Williams, from Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, said she wanted to make a small change. In her statement, she had said managing director Susan Morrice had given her one copy of the document but in fact she had received two.

The existence of two original signed copies could explain the alleged differences in Ms McCaffrey’s signature between the two documents.

Ms Williams, who first met Mr Quinn in the 1970s at one of his yoga classes, said she attended four of his Educo seminars.

She said she held about 900 shares in INE, including about 500 which she took in exchange for a year’s work in 2008. These were worth about $200,000. (€160,000). Under her contract, she works three days a month, at a rate of $5,000 (€4,013) a day.

In autumn 2007, Mr Quinn asked her to pull together three versions of the operating agreement into a single revised version. He was worried about a hostile takeover and wanted to protect the company.

She travelled to the directors’ meeting in Belize in December where the changes were to be agreed. It was a very heated and emotional meeting and she became upset at the conflict between the directors and the lack of respect being shown to her.

She said the four directors present signed two copies of the document while Mr Quinn signed in Dublin the following month. She rejected claims by other directors that Mr Quinn had pre-signed the documents.

Barrister Frank Walwyn, for Ms McCaffrey, said this was the first time the witness had referred to two documents. This change in evidence was helpful to INE, he claimed.

Ms Williams said it didn’t alter anything. This was for the judge to decide. It was only when she saw the signatures were positioned slightly differently on the two sheets that she realised there were in fact two documents.

As the directors agreed changes to the operating agreement, these were inserted on the two documents, she said.

Mr Walwyn said this was the first time the witness had said simultaneous amendments were being made to two documents. He accused Ms Williams of adopting a “revisionist” approach in the light of other evidence given.

Ms Williams denied the charge and said she was conscious that she was an officer of the court.

The court heard that she had earned $904,000 in fees from INE since 2008, giving total earnings of over $1.1 million. She said every cent was legitimately paid and provided value to the company.

In 2008, she refused a request by a director, Jean Cornec, for a copy of the revised operating agreement, saying she did not hold any INE document.

In evidence, she agreed that she did actually have a copy but said she didn’t want to send Mr Cornec a version “defaced” with her handwritten notes.

Later, Ms Williams agreed that she had an electronic copy of the document but she said she did not think it was appropriate to send him that.