Witness had 'misgivings' on Lawlor deal

 

Mahon Tribunal: A former finance director of the Goodman group has told the tribunal he had "misgivings" from the start about a land deal involving Mr Liam Lawlor.

Mr Brian Britton described the transaction as being "like a moving piece of sand" from beginning to end. "Things were never as they seemed to be."

On the suggestion of the former Fianna Fáil TD, Mr Goodman funded the purchase of 55 acres of land at Coolamber, near Lucan, in 1987. He also supplied the Bank of Nova Scotia, which had provided the loan to repay Mr Goodman's £350,000 investment, with a letter of comfort that allowed the land to be bought by an offshore company.

Mr Britton, who was given the job of arranging the details of the deal, said the decision to agree to Mr Lawlor's proposal was "a logical thing to do". In the context of the monies available to the Goodman group, it was a "relatively small transaction".

However, it quickly became apparent that Mr Goodman's involvement would be required to raise the money as cost-effectively as possible.

Mr Lawlor proposed that the land be acquired by an Isle of Man company, Navona, which would be fronted by an Irish company, Southfield Development. He also proposed that Binchys, of which Mr John Caldwell was a partner, carry out the legal work.

Mr Britton said he wouldn't have been involved in the day-to-day running of the company. He understood Binchys to be a reputable firm.

He commented: "If we had known then what we know today, things would have been different. I always expected a solicitor would look after the people involved in a transaction."

Mr Lawlor wanted to be the owner of the company but he, Mr Britton, wanted to protect Mr Goodman, the witness explained. However, he agreed that Mr Goodman was left exposed on the £280,000 he initially advanced to Mr Lawlor. This happened because he had been "led to believe" that certain documents existed when they did not.

He had misgivings about the proposal from an early stage. Subsequently, he experienced "a fair degree of frustration" over the "unusual" arrangement; something that had seemed very simple was getting complicated.

Asked if he had been concerned that Mr Goodman was funding the acquisition of development land for a politician in his own constituency in Dublin, Mr Britton said Mr Lawlor's involvement had not been considered in this way at the time. It wasn't something he had concerned himself with.

Asked why Mr Lawlor wanted to go through a procedure disguising his involvement in the transaction, the witness said this matter was not addressed.

The "bigger picture" was Mr Lawlor's proposal for a blood plasma processing operation through his company, Advanced Proteins, in which the Goodman group was interested. Mr Goodman was simply giving the politician a "hand-out" or a "leg-up" in a property transaction.

Mr Des O'Neill SC, for the tribunal, said Mr Lawlor had never told the tribunal about Navona.

However, Mr Britton said Mr Lawlor told him on July 23rd, 1987, that an Isle of Man company was going to be used in this transaction, "so he must have known".