The Government's account to the Dáil of how it dealt with concerns over Denis O'Brien's acquisition in 2012 of Siteserv has been directly contradicted by Alan Dukes, the former Fine Gael minister for finance and chairman of IBRC.
The sale of Siteserv for €45 million, with a loss to the State of €105 million, will be examined by the Comptroller & Auditor General, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said yesterday.
Michael Noonan, the Minister for Finance, told the Dáil in a written statement last month that he was made aware by his officials of concerns over the deal.
He then said that following a meeting between himself and IBRC, former secretary general of the finance department John Moran was sent to further question former IBRC chief executive Mike Aynsley over the Siteserv transaction at another meeting in August 2012.
This assertion was repeated in the Dáil chamber on Tuesday by Simon Harris, Minister of State at the Department of Finance, when he was queried over the Government's handling of the matter by Independent TD Catherine Murphy.
Mr Dukes, however, says “categorically” that Mr Moran did not raise any such concerns about the Siteserv sale with Mr Aynsley at the August meeting.
“Contrary to what was stated in answer to a recent Dáil question, the matter was not raised” by Mr Moran at the August meeting, Mr Dukes said.
When asked to clarify how he knew this to be the case, he replied: “Mike Aynsley told me himself that Mr Moran did not raise the issue [of Siteserv] at the meeting. He told me this on more than one occasion.”
Mr Moran, who was at a conference in Latvia yesterday evening, said he “couldn’t be sure” whether or not he had raised Siteserv concerns at the meeting until he had a chance to consult his records.
Mr Aynsley could not be reached for comment.
The deal to sell Siteserv to Millington, an Isle of Man-registered company owned by Mr O’Brien, has sparked a major political row in recent days.
Opposition politicians have rounded on the Government over its handling of concerns raised in 2012 by Mr Noonan’s officials about whether the sale to Millington achieved the best financial result for the State.
The officials’ worries about how the sale was conducted were outlined in heavily redacted internal documents released by the department late last week.
Shortly after the deal officials within the Department of Finance brought their concerns to the Minister’s attention.
They cited concerns such as the risk of potential “conflicts of interest” involving legal and financial advisers involved in the transaction.
They also broached concerns over a €5 million payout to Siteserv’s shareholders and some directors to “induce” them to rubberstamp the deal with Mr O’Brien.
They also highlighted that Mr O’Brien’s was not the highest bid.
In a written reply to a parliamentary question by Ms Murphy, Mr Noonan on March 26th told the Dáil that following his meeting with IBRC, “a further meeting between. . . John Moran and . . . Mr Aynsley took place in August 2012 at which this matter was further discussed.”