Ex-O'Brien accountant says letters were forged

 

An accountant has told the Moriarty tribunal he believes two letters in the possession of the tribunal are forgeries created by someone to cause mischief and to damage his reputation and that of others, including Mr Michael Lowry.

Mr Aidan Phelan, formerly an accountant to Mr Denis O'Brien, said the letters were wrong insofar as they differed from evidence given by him to the tribunal last year. The letters were given to the tribunal in March of this year by The Irish Times as part of an inquiry by the newspaper into an article it was preparing.

The letters, dated July and September 2000, indicate Mr Lowry may have been the owner of a property in Cheadle, England, at a time when Mr Phelan said he had taken over ownership.

The letters are from an English solicitor, Mr Christopher Vaughan, to a Northern Ireland businessman, Mr Kevin Phelan. Both men have told the tribunal they will not give evidence to it.

The letters differ from copies given to the tribunal earlier by both men and which indicate Mr Aidan Phelan was the owner of the property at the time the letters were written.

Mr John Coughlan SC, for the tribunal, said forging the letters and giving them to a journalist so they might come to the attention of the tribunal would involve three criminal offences - creating a forgery, issuing a forgery and misleading a tribunal.

He asked Mr Aidan Phelan if he knew of anyone who bore sufficient malice towards him to do such a thing in order to damage Mr Phelan's reputation. Mr Phelan said he did not.

Mr Coughlan said the letters supplied by The Irish Times in March of this year to the tribunal included copies of the letters from Mr Vaughan's files which the tribunal already had in its possession and which were different to other versions supplied by The Irish Times on the same date.

These file copies had never been led in public evidence. Forgery would have involved someone getting access to Mr Vaughan's office, Mr Coughlan said.

Mr Coughlan said it was more probable that the versions of the letters supplied by The Irish Times and which had not previously been seen by the tribunal were the true versions of the letters and were a true reflection of the position in relation to the properties and that "the evidence to the tribunal to the contrary is not correct".

Mr Phelan disagreed.

Mr Coughlan said it was more probable that the letters initially received by the tribunal were designed to obscure Mr Lowry's involvement in the property and to ensure that the tribunal did not get the true picture of what was occurring in July and September 2000.

Mr Phelan said: "I believe the tribunal has been given the correct position in my evidence." He said he had travelled to England during this summer and met Mr Vaughan to discuss the matter. He did not believe the explanations which Mr Vaughan had expressed over the telephone to the tribunal or by letter to Mr Lowry's solicitors were credible. Mr Vaughan had said the letters were produced in error and subsequently corrected.

Mr Phelan said he had expressed the view to Mr Vaughan that the letters were forgeries created mischievously and Mr Vaughan had said this was possible. He did not know if Mr Vaughan had reported the matter to the police. He said Mr Vaughan seemed upset and confused.

Despite his efforts to persuade him, Mr Phelan said, Mr Vaughan would not agree to come to Dublin to give evidence.

Mr Phelan said he had not discussed the letters with Mr Kevin Phelan. "I haven't spoken to him for a long time." He discussed the letters with Mr Lowry both at the time the letters first surfaced and after his own visit to Mr Vaughan.

During the first contact, he told Mr Lowry that he thought the development was "very damaging" to him and "a big problem". He said he did not express the view the letters were forgeries to Mr Lowry until the second contact. Mr Lowry said "the content of the letters is so outrageous" that Mr Phelan might be correct.