Focus shifts to Switzerland in search for Irish charity tech firm chief

Liquidator may have to hire Swiss lawyers in bid to find Ammado boss Peter Conlon

Swiss authorities will not disclose where Peter Conlon is being held.

Swiss authorities will not disclose where Peter Conlon is being held.

 

The court-sanctioned investigation into the alleged embezzlement of charities by Irish businessman Peter Conlon is shifting to Switzerland as the liquidator of his Dublin firm seeks to establish his location.

Swiss authorities will not disclose where Mr Conlon is being held since he was detained by police in Zurich in December on foot of a complaint about missing funds raised by his company.

His detention was triggered by a complaint from the Red Cross about the failure of his Dublin-based online fundraising platform, Ammado, to pass on €1.6 million raised for the charity.

The liquidator of Pembroke Dynamic Internet Services, the failed Dublin technology company that ran Ammado, is likely to have to engage Swiss lawyers as part of his investigation into the missing funds.

The Zurich public prosecutor will not disclose Mr Conlon’s location to Myles Kirby of Dublin accountancy firm Kirby Healy, the liquidator of the firm who has secured a freezing order in the High Court in Dublin against the company assets as he investigates a deficit of about €4 million.

Denise Schmohl, the Swiss prosecutor handling the criminal investigation, said she was unable to disclose where the businessman was being held 'due to official secrecy'

“It is a classic Catch 22,” said one source, noting the bureaucratic quagmire Mr Kirby finds himself in, unable to serve fraudulent trading proceedings on Mr Conlon and unable to locate him because the Swiss will not tell him where he is.

Assistance agreement

The liquidator is having to use an official mutual service assistance agreement between the Irish and Swiss authorities to find his location.

Mr Conlon (63), a technology entrepreneur originally from Co Leitrim, was arrested by the Swiss authorities at Zurich Airport on December 22nd and has been remanded in custody ever since.

The public prosecutor’s office in Zurich has said he was held on suspicion of embezzlement following a criminal complaint by the Geneva-based International Federation of the Red Cross.

Ammado’s offices in Zug, Switzerland, where Mr Conlon relocated to several years ago, were searched as part of the investigation.

Denise Schmohl, the Swiss prosecutor handling the criminal investigation, said she was unable to disclose where the businessman was being held “due to official secrecy”.

Mr Conlon’s defence lawyer, Zurich-based Dr Andrea Taormina, was also unable to comment on his client’s location or his response to the allegations against him. “What I can tell you is that soon things will be much clearer,” he said.

About 800 charities are believed to have been affected by the collapse of Ammado, which employed fewer than 20 staff in Dublin, the Czech Republic and Serbia.

International charities have borne the biggest losses with UN refugee agency UNHCR missing a corporate donation of $500,000 (€402,000) and Save The Children UK £103,852 (€118,000).

Deficit

The liquidator is examining how the losses were racked up at Ammado. The deficit dates back to 2015 and is believed to have increased by €2 million in 2017.

The bulk of the missing money is thought to have been spent propping up the business.

The Charities Regulator has established under its own investigation that as of March 7th last, 14 Irish charities had confirmed that they were owed a total of €28,000

As losses grew, Mr Conlon allegedly drew first on his own money, then capital, loans and money investors put in, followed by money due to creditors before dipping into charitable donations.

Mr Kirby secured the freezing order against Mr Conlon’s assets, alleging in the High Court that Mr Conlon was “guilty of very serious misconduct.” It was reported last month that the London Metropolitan Police has opened an investigation into Ammado.

The Charities Regulator has established under its own investigation that as of March 7th last, 14 Irish charities had confirmed that they were owed a total of €28,000.

“The lesson for all Irish charities would be to make sure that they are vigilant when it comes to third-party contracting for fundraising,” said a spokesman for the regulator.

More than 70 Irish charities fundraised on the Ammado platform, which Mr Conlon set up about a decade ago. The businessman made a fortune in the early 2000s from the sale of MV Technologies.