CAB officers to study findings of tribunal judge
Bureau turns spotlight on Lowry and O'Brien
Published 27/03/2011 | 05:00
THE Criminal Assets Bureau is expected to decide within weeks whether to launch an investigation into the findings of the Moriarty Tribunal.
Ten bureau officers have been assigned to read the 2,400-page document, which found that the former Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry helped telecoms entrepreneur Denis O'Brien win a lucrative mobile phone licence.It also found that Mr Lowry, now an independent TD, subsequently received payments from Mr O'Brien. Both men have rejected the judge's findings, saying there was no evidence for his "opinions".
The Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) can investigate and seize assets based on "reasonable suspicion" that wealth was generated from criminal conduct. Its powers of search and seizure are far greater than those of tribunals of inquiry.
The 10 officers are examining the report to establish whether any of its findings fall within CAB's remit.
Attention is likely to focus on the alleged financial transactions to Mr Lowry. CAB detectives will then conduct a preliminary assessment to decide whether there is evidence in the report to warrant an investigation.
Informed sources said the agency hoped to reach a decision "within weeks". The head of CAB, Chief Supt Eugene Corcoran, will report back to Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.
The report landed on CAB's desk on Thursday, after Taoiseach Enda Kenny referred it to the DPP and the Garda Commissioner.
The Commissioner had said last week: "It's not an investigation per se, we are looking at and examining the report with a view to establishing whether there are any criminal offences disclosed and obviously we will await that report."
Mr Justice Moriarty identified three transactions between Mr O'Brien and Mr Lowry and concluded that: "Michael Lowry, in the course of his ministerial office, as Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, by his acts and decisions, conferred a benefit on Denis O'Brien, a person who made payments to Mr Lowry ... . and who was also the source of money held in accounts in the name of and for the benefit of Mr Lowry."
The only reference to corruption in his report related to Mr Lowry's attempt to influence a rent increase that could have benefited the former supermarket tycoon, Ben Dunne, at the expense of the taxpayer. The report described the interference as "profoundly corrupt".
ANALYSIS PAGES 24-31
CAB has enormous investigative powers, granted to it by the High Court. It can search solicitors' offices, accountants' offices and financial institutions. It can freeze bank accounts and seize property if a judge agrees on the balance of probabilities that there is "reasonable suspicion" wealth was accrued from criminal conduct.
It can also apply to the High Court to confiscate wealth from those who are suspected of benefiting from "unjust enrichment".
The potential to analyse financial transactions is also far greater than those enjoyed by tribunals of inquiry.
In the past, CAB has pursued successful prosecutions in the planning-corruption tribunal, although those cases had the benefit of testimony from key witnesses.
However, the time that has elapsed since the events investigated by Mr Justice Moriarty occurred could hamper any inquiry. In addition, CAB will not be able to use Mr Justice Moriarty's report as the basis for evidence in a potential criminal action -- it would have to gather its own.
That would mean re-interviewing hundreds of witnesses and obtaining fresh details of financial records.
"The report deals with events of 16 years ago and all of that raises a difficulty," said one source. "That is not to say that other conduct could not be looked at."
Denis O'Brien and Mr Lowry have rejected Mr Justice Moriarty's findings. Mr O'Brien claimed that its findings were based solely on "opinions which find no basis in evidence, fact and law".
He welcomed the decision by the Taoiseach to forward the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
In a statement issued last week, Mr O'Brien said he had no doubt that the "none of the expressions of opinion which form the basis of the tribunal's report will withstand any objective scrutiny."