Bóthar’s convoluted money trail raises questions

The money from the charity should have helped trafficking victims in Tanzania, but did it get there?

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“That they can have some hope in their lives, that is our biggest ambition,” says Sister Treasa, a native of Chennai in Tamil Nadu, India, who works with trafficked girls and young women in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Bóthar, the Limerick charity famed for sending farm animals to poor families in the developing world, made substantial payments over recent years to the order to which Sister Treasa belongs, according to the charity’s records.

Eight cash withdrawals totalling €226,099 were made between 2013 and 2019 to support the order’s work, according to the charity’s bank files.

But now a question mark hangs over whether the money ever got to the east African country, where almost half of the 55 million population are believed to live on less than €1.60 a day.

“We work mainly with the victims of human trafficking,” Sr Treasa told The Irish Times. “We rescue the girls, aged 13 years to 21, who are identified by volunteers and social workers, and we bring them here and give them medical support, and counselling, and some skills training.”.

The order, the Daughters of Mary Immaculate and Collaborators, was founded in Tamil Nadu in 1984 and is committed to serving the poor and the underprivileged “unconditionally”. It has missions in Europe, the US, Africa and South America.

The sisters have a “drop-in house” in Dar es Salaam, where they give a home to up to 30 girls and young women for up to three months. If they have have not been re-united with their families, they move to the congregation’s second house, where they can stay for a further nine months.

“We have a youth programme, and we teach the children who have left school some skills so they can stand by themselves, and so that they can have some hope,” says Sr Treasa.

Recorded payments

One of the order’s founding members is its mission director in Africa, Sr Viji Dahli. She is currently in South Sudan, where the order works with people traumatised by the war. Efforts to contact her over WhatsApp were unsuccessful.

The recorded payments to the Indian nuns are one of five items of concern listed in an affidavit from Harry Lawlor, chairman of Bóthar, in a recent successful ex-parte, or one side only application to the High Court, for a freeze order against the assets of the charity’s former chief executive, David Moloney.

Moloney is prohibited from reducing his assets below €465,000 – the amount the charity alleges he misappropriated from it – while the litigation that has been taken by Bóthar against him waits to be heard.

Although he was not represented on the day of the application, the court was told that Moloney, of Clino, Newport, Co Tipperary, denies all wrongdoing.

Among the matters put to the court by Bóthar was an affidavit from Edel Mee, an IT expert who was commissioned by the charity on November 4th, 2020, to assist it in its dealings with Moloney.

Chief executive of the charity since 2011, Moloney had been suspended on November 2nd, and asked to provide his email passwords.

However, they weren’t handed over until lunchtime on November 6th, and because Moloney was the sole administrator on the Microsoft system, everyone else was blocked from accessing his accounts until then.

When Mee examined Moloney’s Bóthar email account on November 6th, she told the court, she found that 98 per cent of its content had been deleted in the period since November 2nd, a period when, she said, no other person had access to the account other than the former CEO.

Moloney, the court was told, had through his solicitors “categorically denied” deleting data from his devices.

Mee said she was able to take steps that ensured she could get copies of the deleted emails from Moloney’s office computer, and store them.

The computer expert was then asked by Bóthar to examine this material for evidence of contacts between Moloney and Sr Viji, which she did.

She found emails from the nun to Moloney from 2011 and 2012, where Sr Viji gave details of what her congregation was doing in Tanzania.

In 2014, according to Mee, Moloney sent an email to a Bóthar employee that was “ostensibly” an application for funds from Sr Viji.

However, a search of Moloney’s emails found no evidence of any correspondence between Moloney and the Indian nun that year.

In 2016 Moloney sent the same Bóthar employee a document he said he had received from Sr Viji.

“I am satisfied that Mr Moloney created this document himself on March 3rd 2016, using the document he had received from Sr Viji in 2011 as a template,” Mee told the court.

Mee said she found a number of ostensible requests for funds from Sr Viji which she believed were documents created by Moloney.

On March 7th, 2016, Moloney sent an email to an address “almost identical” to the one used by Sr Viji, and cc’d the email to the Bóthar employee to whom he had earlier sent the allegedly fake requests for funding.

Correspondence

The March 7th email ostensibly advised Sr Viji that her request for funding had been approved. Mee did not believe that the address the email was sent to existed, the court was told.

“There is no evidence of any correspondence between Mr Moloney and Sr Viji at her actual email address, in 2016,” Mee told the court.

In May 2018, Moloney wrote to Sr Viji to advise her that he would be visiting Dar es Salaam the following month, Mee said.

“They arranged to meet on the morning of June 28th, 2018. Mr Moloney had, by then, withdrawn cash to the value of €27,552.”

The following month, according to Mee, Sr Viji emailed Moloney, thanking him for the “advice” he had given her, and attaching a proposal seeking financial support from Bóthar.

Moloney replied in August, saying he would respond to her request in due course. “He did not, however, do so,” Mee said.

She said Moloney produced a receipt for the €27,552 purporting to be from Sr Viji, but her examination showed that the file was actually created in July 2018 by Moloney.

Lawlor, in his affidavit, listed eight cash withdrawals totalling €226,099 from Bóthar’s bank accounts which he said were made by Moloney between July 2013 and May 2019.

“These sums were expressed to be for the benefit of Sr Viji,” he told the court. “The board had never heard of Sr Viji, or her mission in Tanzania.”

Bóthar contacted Sr Viji on January 7th of this year and she took part in a meeting over Zoom from Chennai.

She said she had twice met Moloney in his Bóthar offices, and had sent several emails seeking funding, but without success. “Not a cent,” she said.

“She also explained that Mr Moloney visited her in Tanzania in 2018 and that she showed him a rehabilitation centre that she and her mission ran there.”

Moloney had given two contradictory accounts of where he allegedly gave the €27,552 in cash to Sr Viji in 2018, Lawlor said.

“I believe that neither of these two irreconcilable accounts is correct.”

As well as the cash purporting to have gone to Tanzania, the charity also has concerns about €127,158 that went to a company in England, since dissolved, purportedly for charitable activity in Rwanda, Lawlor told the court.

He said Moloney had three credit cards issued to him by Bóthar. The charity has concerns about apparent personal expenses paid for with the cards totalling €47,638, including sums apparently linked to flights to Mallorca Airport in Spain.

He further cited cash withdrawals totalling €64,820, and payments to a pension fund about which the charity had concerns.

Lawlor was one of the four founding members of Bóthar, which began with the sending of “Irish cows to poor families in Uganda” in 1990.

The others involved were former Bóthar CEO Peter Ireton, accountant Jim Quigley, and former Limerick Leader journalist Billy Kelly.

The charity expanded its operations beyond cattle and got involved in donating pigs, goats, water buffalo, camels, and bees to thousands of poor, rural families. It also got involved in training and community development support.

The most recent set of audited accounts for the charity show income of more than €6 million in 2018, with almost all of this coming from public donations.

“Ordinary people doing extraordinary things” reads the caption on the front of the charity’s 2018 annual report.

“I want to thank you for continuing to trust Bóthar to deliver your donation to where it is needed most,” Moloney said in his signed message on page seven.

Bóthar has now stopped collecting funds from the public and is the subject of an investigation by the charities regulator.

The charity’s investigations into its own affairs, which were sparked by an anonymous letter received on Good Friday 2019, continues, and contact has been made with An Garda Síochána, which is also making inquiries.

The case by Bóthar against its former CEO, who resigned in early February, is due back before the courts for mention in two weeks.

When supporting the ex-parte application for a freezing order, Lawlor said he was “keenly conscious” that what he was alleging would have “grave implications” for the charity.