The High Court has disqualified the founder and former managing director of the collapsed fundraising service Pembroke Dynamic Peter Conlon from being a company director or officer for 16 years.
The period of disqualification is thought to be the longest ever handed down by the Irish courts.
In a judgment Mr Justice Mark Sanfey said that in light of Mr Conlon's grave conduct when running Pembroke, a disqualification period of 18 years was merited to reflect the gravity of the wrongdoing.
“It is difficult to conceive of a more egregious and reprehensible fraud than the diversion of charitable donations from their intended purpose,” the judge said.
The judge said that when mitigating factors, including Mr Conlon’s age, the fact he spent time in prison in Switzerland, and his settlement of proceedings brought against him by the firm’s liquidator, were taken into account a discount of two years should apply.
The judge said that given Mr Conlon’s actions he was “strongly of the view” that a substantial period of disqualification was required.
It was required in order to protect the public and provide a deterrent against any similar future frauds, he said.
The judge said that what had happened in this case amounted to “a shabby and repugnant fraud”, resulting in charities being denied of significant donations for a sustained period of time.
“The loss of the funds in this instance resulted in a serious depletion of resources for charities, with the victim of such actions being the vulnerable persons whose interests’ charities represent” he said.
The previous experience and success of Mr Conlon made his conduct “all the more reprehensible” the judge said. He added that the businessman could not suggest that his actions were down to “inexperience or naivety.”
Pembroke Dynamic's liquidator Myles Kirby, represented by Rossa Fanning SC, had argued that a lengthy period of disqualification should apply in this case.
Mr Conlon’s lawyers had asked for leniency on grounds including that Mr Conlon is 67 years of age separated father of four adult children, and lives on €400 per week.
He had been an award-winning businessman who set up the platform in 2008 in an attempt to give something back. The platform was successful for some time before it started to experience difficulties.
Mr Conlon accepted that some monies were loaned to the company from the charitable foundation to keep Pembroke going.
He had hoped to bring in external investment to the company that ultimately would have saved the day and resulted in the loans being repaid.
He accepted that the reality was he would never be a company officer again.
Last month proceedings brought by Mr Kirby against Mr Conlon were settled. As part of that agreement Mr Conlon accepts that the he is responsible for Pembroke Dynamic's debts of up to €2 million.
Mr Conlon has also consented to a judgement of €2 million being made against him in favour of the liquidator, and that the court was entitled to make order disqualifying him from being a company director.
Mr Kirby accepts that Mr Conlon did not personally benefit from the misappropriated monies, the court heard.
Other terms of the settlement agreement include that freezing type orders preventing Mr Conlon reducing his assets below a sum of €2 million, which have been in place since 2018, are to remain in place for a period of three years.
Monies held in several bank accounts, totalling €371,000 are also to be given to the liquidator. These funds, along with any other assets received by Mr Kirby under the terms will distributed to Pembroke’s creditors by the liquidator.
The court that it was accepted was that some €4 million donated to several national and international charities via Pembroke platform had been misappropriated.
Mr Kirby claimed that monies were moved from the charitable trust or foundation set up by Mr Conlon to the company, Pembroke Dynamic, that operated the platform.
The platform allowed persons to donate to various charities over the internet.
Money donated through Pembroke’s platform was supposed to be given to the individual charities via the foundation, with the company receiving a commission.
Following Mr Kirby’s forensic examination of Pembroke’s books and records it was evident that there were no financial controls in place to prevent the mixing of monies between the company and the foundation, it was claimed.
Monies that supposed to go to the charities were used by the company to pay for things including staff wages and rent, without the knowledge or consent of the charities or the donors, the court heard.
Mr Conlon was the founder and head of Pembroke Dynamic Internet Services Ltd, and related companies Ammado Technology Limited, and the Ammado Foundation, which were put into liquidation following an application by Revenue in 2018.
Mr Kirby subsequently brought proceedings against Mr Conlon as part of his probe into what happened to donations made to dozens of charities misappropriated by Pembroke.
In 2018 Mr Kirby secured an injunction freezing Mr Conlon’s assets, including any bank accounts he held.
The court previously heard that Mr Conlon’s only assets are properties in Ballsbridge, Dublin, which he co-owns with his former wife, and are in negative equity to the tune of €4 million.
He also claims he has significant liabilities to various parties of over €10 million. Mr Conlon was jailed in Switzerland in 2018 after he pleaded guilty to the embezzlement of monies which were to fund his technology company.
In total he spent a year in solitary confinement before his release from custody.