Almost a third of pre-tax profit in the Wright Bus parent company was donated to fund Christian, evangelical and other causes between 2010 and 2017, in the run-up to its financial difficulties, which has ultimately led the business to enter administration.
An analysis of the accounts of the Cornerstone Group in the seven-year period show it donated £15.38 million (€17.35 million) to "fund the group's commitment" to those charitable causes.
In that same period, Cornerstone made an accumulated profit of £34.5 million (€38.9 million) with 2010 and 2017 being the loss-making years. Had it not made such hefty donations, that would have been as high as £49.8 million (€56.2 million).
In 2017, one loss-making year, directors received £1.6 million (€1.8 million) in emoluments while the company’s pre-tax loss amounted to £1.7 million (€1.9 million). Had the directors cut down on their pay and pulled back on their charitable donations, the company would have been profitable.
At the end of 2017, Cornerstone had £6.2 million (€7 million) in the bank and a £9.7 million (€10.9 million) overdraft.
Meanwhile, Wrights Group, one of the company's that has entered administration, paid £12.9 million (€14.5 million) to its parent company between 2014 and 2017. In that period, when it made an accumulated profit before tax of £42.5 million (€48 million), the company also paid rent of £1.05 million (€1.1 million) to a "related party". In the year Cornerstone made a £5 million (€5.6 million) donation to charitable activities, Wrights Group paid a £4 million (€4.5 million) dividend.
Cornerstone has three listed shareholders comprising pastor Jeffrey William Wright, known as pastor Jeff, and the son of William Thompson Wright, who controls almost 69 per cent of the company; Wright Evangelical Trust, which controls 26 per cent of the company; and Lorraine Roberta Rock, who controlled just below 5 per cent of the group. The company bought Ms Roberta Rock's shares back in April of this year for £1 million (€1.1 million), leaving pastor Jeff in sole control. That came despite reports that its subsidiary, Wrights Group, had been looking for cash.
Mr Wright, is also a director and senior pasture at Green Pastures, the People's Church. His church acquired a 39-hectare (97-acre) site outside Ballymena in 2012 on which he is building a super church.
In 2007 this land was valued at £75 million (€84.7 million) when it was owned by the UK department of social development, according to a BBC report from 2012. The report noted that the department had been offered £50 million (€56.5 million) for the land by a business consortium before the property crash. Subsequently, in 2011, the land was valued at £9 million (€10.1 million). It was sold in 2012 by the government to Green Pastures for £4 million (€4.5 million) and one pound.
On that site, in a Ballymena industrial estate, Wright intends to build church buildings, community leisure facilities, a cafe, creche, offices, a gym, a playing pitch, and a wedding chapel, planning documents filed with Mid and East Antrim Borough Council show.
A series of Wrights Group companies fell into administration on Wednesday, leading to the loss of employment for 1,250 staff. Administrators confirmed to The Irish Times that the Cornerstone Group Ltd is not part of the administration process.