Lowry rent bid 'profoundly corrupt'

 

Former minister Michael Lowry has been accused of an attempt at breathtaking corruption by using his influence to double the rental value of a building part-owned by businessman Ben Dunne and leased to the then State-owned Telecom Éireann.

Had this attempt, succeeded it would have resulted in a virtual doubling of the investment value of Mr Dunne's interest in the property from IR£5.4 million (€6.86 million) to IR£12.75 million (€16.19 million), according to the report.

"What was contemplated and attempted on the part of Mr Dunne and Mr Lowry was profoundly corrupt to a degree that was nothing short of breathtaking," the tribunal report said.

"What was reprehensible about his actions was that the tenant of the building was Telecom Éireann, of which, as minister for communications, Mr Lowry was the ultimate shareholder.

Had his attempt succeeded, the resultant benefit would have been at the expense of Telecom Éireann, the shares of which Mr Lowry held on behalf of the State, and therefore at the expense of the taxpayer," it adds.

Mr Lowry, then a member of Fine Gael and now Independent TD, is alleged to have asked a party insider, who was also a partner in an state agency, to influence the rent review on Marlborough House in Dublin.

Mark FitzGerald, of Sherry FitzGerald and a Fine Gael trustee, refused.

Mr Lowry’s intervention was described in the report as patently improper, and a grave dereliction of duty and conflict of interest.

“What was contemplated and attempted on the part of Mr Lowry and Mr Dunne was profoundly corrupt, to a degree that was nothing short of breathtaking,” the report says.

In a statement today Mr Lowry said the Moriarty report was "factually wrong and deliberately misleading". The Independent TD for Tipperary North said he "totally rejects the tenure" of Moriarty report.

He said Mr Justice Moriarty "has outrageously abused the tribunal’s ability to form opinions which are not substantiated by evidence or fact".

Businessman Ben Dunne has also strongly rejected the findings.

Mr Dunne - who was kidnapped by the IRA in the 1980s and later found notoriety after taking cocaine in a Florida hotel in 1992 and for payments to Charles Haughey - bought the building for Ir£5.4 million in 1995.

When Mr Lowry intervened to effectively double the rent it would have valued the investment at Ir£12.75m in just a few months.

The report, after 14 years of inquiry, said if the deal had been successful, Mr Lowry would have improperly enriched Mr Dunne and burdened the taxpayer.

Judge Moriarty, and the earlier tribunal from which it followed, McCracken, both uncovered trails of payments from Mr Dunne to Mr Lowry, and also Fine Gael.

The report said Mr Dunne had claimed in his evidence to the tribunal that he only spoke to Mr Lowry to get the rent revision process expedited, and not to secure an increased valuation. Mr Dunne told the tribunal while the deal looked terrible that was the way he did business.

In his evidence to the tribunal Mr Lowry denied asking for the valuation increase and also denied asking: “What are ‘we’ going to do as Ben Dunne has contributed IR£170,000 to Fine Gael”.

Mr Lowry topped the poll in Tipperary North as an independent candidate in last month’s General Election.