Charity boss stole money said to have gone to victims of sex trafficking

Cash bonuses for Bóthar staff as public urged to forgo Christmas presents, and donate instead

A high-profile event in 2016 to mark the 25th anniversary of the foundation of Bóthar was used by its then chief executive, David Moloney, to steal €37,200 in cash from the Limerick charity, according to his former employer.

"The biggest ever multi-species airlift from Ireland to benefit Rwandan genocide widows takes off this October," the Clare Herald reported in August 2016, when disclosing news of the event.

The “Ark” was to take off from Shannon Airport with a live cargo that would include 40 in-calf dairy cows, 260 pigs, 200 dairy goats and 1,000 chicks.

It was 25 years since the charity was founded by Harry Lawlor, Peter Ireton, Billy Kelly and Jim Quigley.

“We have since turned into one of Ireland’s best-known charities and one which transforms the lives of thousands of the world’s poorest annually with gifts of food and income-producing livestock,” Moloney was quoted as saying.

On Tuesday in the High Court, fresh details of Moloney’s scheming and theft from the charity he led for eight years was disclosed.

Lawlor, for many years a close friend of Moloney and Ireton – the three men owned a skincare clinic together, by way of a company they called Golden Dreams – outlined to the court the latest accusations against the executive who once reported to him.

An examination of Moloney’s computer records showed he doctored an email from an official of the Rwandan High Commission in London, dated September 5th, 2016, Lawlor said.

The text inserted by Moloney – using a different font – listed the animals that were to be flown to Rwanda and itemised the amount of “duty” that Bóthar would have to pay in relation to each species. The total was €37,200.

Moloney forwarded the fake email to Elaine Moynihan, Bóthar's accountant. "Get the funds into our safe as soon as possible," he said.

On September 12th, Moynihan contacted Bóthar’s bank, Ulster Bank, and arranged for €37,200 to be withdrawn in cash. The cash was withdrawn the following day by Moloney and another staff member.

Bóthar has now confirmed there was never any duty charged in association with the flying of livestock to Rwanda for the benefit of women whose husbands had been killed in the genocide there.

A copy of the fake email was supplied to Ulster Bank, stamped, and placed in the Bóthar books, under the heading “Import duty on Ark”.

Lawlor, Moynihan and Moloney were among those who travelled to Rwanda on the “Ark”, arriving on October 10th, 2016, but Moloney never mentioned anything about import duty, Lawlor told the court.

When they were back in Limerick, Moloney sent Moynihan a receipt for the cash, stamped “Rwandan customs”. There is no such body, Bóthar has since ascertained.

The transaction was not included in a list of misappropriations that Moloney admitted to earlier this month, by way of his solicitors, the Bóthar chairman noted.

And while Moloney purported to disclose all his bank accounts in the same communication, he did not mention one he had with Ulster Bank that was held jointly with Ireton.

Cash withdrawals

Five-figure cash withdrawals from the Bóthar account with Ulster Bank litter the accusations that are now before the courts. Moloney has admitted to many of the thefts.

Mr Justice Senan Allen made an order that Moloney should not reduce his assets below €769,000, the current estimate for how much the charity believes he stole.

Bogus documents were drafted to make it look as if hundreds of thousands of euro had gone to an order of Indian nuns in Tanzania, the Daughters of Mary Immaculate and Collaborators.

The money stolen was nominally to have gone to the families of impoverished girls and young women who had been rescued from sex trafficking.

The head of the order in Africa, Sister Viji, asked Moloney for help for the families of the rescued girls.

The charity boss used these communications as cover for a succession of cash withdrawals from the Bóthar bank account.

Between 2013 and 2019, eight cash withdrawals totalling €226,099 were made. In one instance, at least, we know Moloney “accounted” for the money by saying he brought it to Tanzania to give it, in cash, to Sr Viji. He produced a bogus signed receipt.

Moloney has now admitted to stealing the €226,099. A further €61,850, that the charity was told was given to Sr Viji in two payments in 2011 and 2013, is also now believed to have been stolen.

Moloney and Ireton, Moloney has now said, misappropriated the money that was recorded as having gone to the nuns in Tanzania.

The two friends also took €34,200 in cash in 2015 that they said went to an Irish priest in Kenya.

Ireton died in his home last week in tragic circumstances. On the same day Moloney contacted Bóthar though his solicitors and admitted he had stolen money from Bóthar, something he had been denying up to that point.

Moloney said he was also involved in the misappropriation of money by way of bogus transactions “concocted” with Kelly, a former journalist with the Limerick Leader.

Kelly moved to England in 2003, and set up a charity he ran there, Msaada, focused on Rwanda. He is now understood to be receiving hospital care.

During Tuesday’s hearing in the High Court there were contributions from barristers acting for Bóthar, Moloney and Moloney’s wife. The couple have two children.

There was discussion about Moloney’s wife’s interest in the property owned by Moloney – the family home in Clino, Newport, Co Tipperary, a second property, and a farm.

Disability benefit

Moloney’s sole income now is disability benefit. His position is that he has spent the money he took from Bóthar, but the charity does not accept this.

"Given the enormous sums of money that Mr Moloney withdrew, it is simply inconceivable that he does not retain a great deal of cash at this time," said Frank Beatty SC, for Bóthar.

Moloney, through his lawyers, said he wanted to make restitution, and could use his pension funds to do so, but the charity said it was including some of this pension money in the funds it alleged were misappropriated.

There is no dispute between the parties over €81,365 that was paid into a pension opened for Moloney in 2016 and which Moloney accepts was not authorised.

“The form signifying Bóthar’s consent to the transaction was signed by Ms [Niamh] Mulqueen, on Bóthar’s behalf, purporting to be an authorised signatory and/or director of Bóthar, which she is not,” Lawlor told the court. “The direct debit mandate was signed by Mr Ireton.”

Mulqueen is Bóthar’s chief operating officer. She was not represented in court.

The charity had 10 employees as of earlier this year, with Moloney, who resigned in February, reporting to the board.

Cash bonuses

Lawlor said it was investigating the paying of cash bonuses at Christmas to some Bóthar staff using money that was noted in the charity’s books as being spent on helping poor families abroad.

This was done at a time when Bóthar was urging the public to forgo buying Christmas presents for loved ones, and instead give the money to Bóthar.

Moynihan, the Bóthar accountant, has “confessed” to fabricating bogus projects to cover these bonus payments, the court was told.

The latest filed Bóthar accounts are for 2018. Audited by Grant Thornton, they list the provision of heifers, cows, goats and training, to poor families in Zambia, Albania, Kosovo, Romania and Rwanda, with the work in Rwanda being done “in partnership with Msaada”, the English charity run by Kelly which is now closed.

Moynihan has told Bóthar that a cheque for €19,210 drawn in 2018 for a project in Kosovo was, in fact, used to pay cash bonuses to certain staff.

Grant Thornton was asked if it wanted to comment on its auditing of the Bóthar accounts. A spokeswoman told The Irish Times that “all engagements are bound by strict confidentiality agreements. As such we cannot comment.”

The gardaí have raided Moloney’s home to secure evidence. They have as yet to interview the 56-year-old who, according to Lawlor, was persuaded to return to Ireland in 1995 to work for Bóthar by Ireton, who was at that time the chief executive.

In his ruling on Tuesday Mr Justice Allen ordered Moloney to itemise all the money he’s taken and what happened to it, and any third parties that were involved.

This has to be done by May 4th next. The statement will no doubt be read with interest by members of the Garda National Bureau of Fraud Investigation. Bóthar is no longer fundraising.

Lawlor told Mr Justice Allen the charity’s investigations are ongoing. “It may well be necessary for Bóthar to seek leave to join other parties to these proceedings in due course,” he said.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent