Saturday 25 March 2017

Accountants in CIE probe refuse to attend hearing

Shane Ross

THE accountants whose report uncovered breaches of procurement at CIE's Iarnrod Eireann have declined to answer questions before an Oireachtas probe.

George Maloney of Baker Tilly Accountants wrote to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport chairman, Fianna Fail's Frank Fahy, pleading client confidentiality, potential defamation actions and even garda investigations as reasons for not appearing at the hearing.

The highly damaging report -- for which the accountants charged the semi-state transport company €500,000 -- has been the subject of heated controversy. It was not released by Iarnrod Eireann to the Transport Minister Noel Dempsey, the board of Iarnrod Eireann, or its parent company CIE, until it was leaked to this newspaper.

It uncovered widespread breaches of procurement policy and kickbacks at the semi-state company.

It is believed that the Oireachtas Transport Committee's members agreed at a private session on Wednesday to warn Mr Maloney that it would not hesitate to seek powers to compel his attendance as a witness if he continued to "respectfully decline" the invitation to a hearing.

Mr Maloney declined an earlier invitation from the committee last December, enclosing a letter from a lawyer advising that he might be needed in a Supreme Court case on the day fixed for the hearing.

A letter from the committee is understood to be on its way, rejecting the grounds for non-appearance. The committee will also be sending a letter to CIE executive chairman John Lynch requiring him to release Mr Maloney and Baker Tilly from any promise of client confidentiality.

Last night, Fine Gael committee member Fergus O'Dowd said: "We need transparency and accountability. George Maloney and Baker Tilly know the answers to several unknowns. We are insisting that they must be heard on this. On behalf of the taxpayer, we should get to the bottom of all allegations and questions must be answered in the committee."

Sunday Independent

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