Man on fraud charges claims former minister threatened him with violence

 

A former Irish minister of State, Mr Michael Keating, threatened to put a man in a wheelchair and harm his children unless he took part in a £20 million VAT fraud, it was claimed in a London court yesterday.

Mr Keating, once lord mayor of Dublin and a former Fine Gael member who became deputy leader of the Progressive Democrats, used threats to terrify Mr Daniel O'Connell, of Catherine Street, Limerick, into submission, it was alleged.

Mr Keating was allegedly involved in a computer chip fraud with Mr O'Connell, who is on trial for tax fraud at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court.

Mr O'Connell (46) claimed he ran a computer company for Mr Keating because he lived in fear of his life. He had borrowed £151,000 from Mr Keating and his partner, Mr John O'Neill, to help with his building business, and in return they asked him to become involved with a computer firm, he said.

Mr O'Connell told the jury he tried to back out of the agreement in 1996, and Mr Keating called him to a meeting in Limerick at Irish Semi-Conductors, Mr Keating's company.

He said: "John O'Neill was there with Bill Slattery, another director of the company, and some time later Michael Keating arrived with two men I hadn't seen before.

"I told him I was doing my contractual work and wouldn't have time to do what he was asking me to do. I said I didn't think the business he was doing was viable. He blew a fuse and threatened me. He said: `Do you have the money, £150,000 plus £15,000 interest?' I said I didn't and he said: `The money does not belong to me. It belongs to the two men here'.

"Keating said: `If you don't get on with what I've told you to do, you will be in serious trouble'. He told me I would be in a wheelchair. He said: `We know where you live. We know where your wife and children are' and `Your girlfriend will end up with a lot of stitches in her face'."

Mr O'Connell claimed he had received numerous threats since becoming involved with Mr Keating and had been the victim of a "staged robbery" in 1998, designed to intimidate him.

Mr O'Connell said last Sunday a fellow prisoner in Wandsworth jail delivered a message saying, "Make sure you read the Irish press. Keep your mouth shut and tell your f . . . . ing QC to keep his mouth shut as well."

The jury was shown Sunday Independent and Sunday World stories about the murder of Derek Dunne. Asked who he believed had sent the message, he replied: "Some people who haven't been mentioned in this case. I'm not prepared to mention who they are because they are very violent people and one of them is known to have killed people."

Asked why he had not gone to the authorities when he realised what he was involved in, he replied: "Because I was afraid of the people involved". Asked by his QC, Mr Michael Gray: "Did you have any doubt in your mind that you were under very grave threat?", Mr O'Connell replied: "I had no doubt whatsoever."

Mr O'Connell is accused of defrauding the British taxpayer. He allegedly paid £32,000 tax from 1996 to 1999, when he owed closer to £20 million.

The prosecution claims he tricked London suppliers of Intel Pentium II processors into believing they were being sold for VAT-free export to Ireland. They were sold to Mr O'Connell's network of companies in England and the Irish firms purporting to buy them were all part of the swindle, it is claimed.

Mr O'Connell, a car trader for 25 years, said he was introduced to Mr Keating by a mutual acquaintance, Mr John O'Neill, and the two men agreed to lend him £151,000 to help his subcontracting business in London. He claimed he initially believed the computer business he was asked to run was legitimate and denied involvement in the fraud.

He said: "I had nothing to do with the buying and selling of any computer parts. I was acting on instructions."

He said the extent of his involvement was organising delivery and collection and instructing payment and that his name was used on documents without his consent.

He denies having a single share in any of the companies involved or reaping large financial rewards from the business. The prosecution alleges he had £4.2 million in offshore accounts around the world. Mr O'Connell denies five counts of tax evasion and one of cheating the public revenue. Ms Bernadette Devine (33), of Perivale, Middlesex, originally of Co Sligo, and Mr John Dawson (58), of Blackpill, Swansea, deny the same charges.

The hearing will resume next Wednesday and is expected to last two months.