Irish News

Wednesday 30 July 2014

"If that comes out, I'm ruined," - Lowry

ELAINE BYRNE and GENE KERRIGAN EXCLUSIVE

Published 24/02/2013|10:55

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Michael Lowry

A RECORDING of an extraordinary telephone conversation between the disgraced former Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry TD and the Northern Ireland-based land agent Kevin Phelan has come into the possession of the Sunday Independent.

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Central to the conversation is the sterling sum of £250,000 which Mr Lowry says he paid to Mr Phelan. Mr Lowry said on the tape: "I never declared it."

The conversation, which transpired when Mr Lowry rang Mr Phelan, lasted 12 minutes and 42 seconds. It took place on September 30, 2004.

It was recorded by Mr Phelan and a recording of the conversation was supplied to the Sunday Independent by him.

Kevin Phelan is a property consultant based in Omagh, Co Tyrone. His business includes identifying land parcels for purchase and development and then identifying suitable investors.

A number of these deals were probed by the Moriarty tribunal, but Mr Phelan declined by fax to appear as a witness at the last moment.

Since he is based outside the jurisdiction, he could not be compelled to attend.

In the recorded conversation, Mr Lowry constantly refers to a sum of either St£200,000 or St£250,000, which he says he paid to Mr Phelan and which Mr Phelan has confirmed that he received.

Mr Lowry seems extremely anxious to get Mr Phelan to confirm that he had nothing to do with an entity called Glebe Trust, described in the conversation by Kevin Phelan as his "family trust".

The tribunal, in its final report, said it could make only limited findings on one of the deals set up by Mr Phelan — the sale of Doncaster Rovers, an English third-division football club in 1998, for St£4.3m, because of the "suppression" of evidence. The tribunal made a number of adverse findings against Mr Lowry.

The tribunal found that Mr Lowry "did have an involvement in the Doncaster Rovers transaction". This was intended to "entail a payment to, or the conferral of a pecuniary advantage" to Mr Lowry by billionaire businessman Denis O'Brien, it concluded.

This has been strongly denied by both Mr Lowry and Mr O'Brien.

The tribunal was "unable to determine the precise nature" of Mr Lowry's interest in Doncaster Rovers and the "extent to which it was intended that he would benefit from it".

Glebe Trust owned a company named Westferry, which had been set up by Mr Phelan.

Westferry was sold to Mr O'Brien who then used it to buy Doncaster Rovers and the valuable site on which its grounds were located. Both Mr Lowry and Mr O'Brien maintain that Mr Lowry was not involved in that purchase.

These grounds were recently the subject of a sale agreement in a joint venture with Doncaster Council, involving a sum reported to be in the region of St£10m.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday last week, we put a number of detailed questions to Mr Lowry based on the content of the phone conversation.

These were hand delivered to his Dail office and also sent by email.

We sought to contact him by phone calls, which were not answered, and by subsequent text messages. We made a phone call to his constituency office and sent messages via Facebook (on which he was active last week), as well as text messages and voicemail messages to his son, Councillor Michael Lowry Jr. At the time of going to press, Mr Lowry had not responded.

The Moriarty tribunal's report, in which the Doncaster Rovers sale featured significantly, was referred in March 2011 by the Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, to the Criminal Assets Bureau, led by Det Chief Supt Eugene Corcoran for review.

That review was completed and given to the commissioner.

Since October it has been with the Director of Public Prosecutions who is considering whether or not to launch a full-blown investigation.

On Friday, the Sunday Independent handed over a copy of the recording and supporting documentation and other recordings to officers from the CAB.

In the 12 minute, 42 second recorded conversation, Mr Lowry pleads with Mr Phelan: "I'm asking you Kevin, for fuck's sake, will you protect me just a small bit. For Jaysus sake, don't land me in it, I'm destroyed as it fucking is. I can't bring out that fucking 200 — that 250 — again. If that comes out I'm fucking ruined, I'm bankrupt."

Soon afterwards in the conversation, Mr Lowry can be heard saying: "I'm asking you — I'm fucking begging you.

Please don't, because I'm not — they can't find that 200. I never declared it."

Later, he goes on to say: "The 200 — the 250 — that I gave you, I paid that directly, I never put that through my books or my account or anything, nobody's going to fucking get it, so I've got, you know, I mean, I'm not even bringing that into it."

In the recording, Mr Phelan can be heard responding to Mr Lowry, telling him: "As far as I'm concerned, that 250 was my — represented my selling my shares, Glebe Trust shares and that, in Westferry.

I set up Westferry, it was my company, I have all the documentation for that company.

And it was owned by Glebe Trust." Mr Lowry then says: "But if you say that, if you say that, if you say that, if you say that that happened, what the 250 is for is for the sale of fucking Vineacre or Vineacre shares.

Because if you say the opposite, if you say the other, then I'm fucking, looks as if I had a beneficial interest in fucking Doncaster, which I hadn't." Vineacre is a company that was involved in another British land deal (in Wigan), set up by Mr Phelan, in which Mr Lowry does not dispute his involvement.

It featured recently in the media when Mr Lowry was asked why he had not declared this ownership in the Dail register of interests.

After a Sunday Independent story on the Wigan land, the Standards in Public Office Commission received 380 complaints and is currently investigating this matter.

At one stage in the conversation, Mr Lowry and Mr Phelan agreed that solicitors engaged by Mr Phelan should not be "appointed officially", as "the fucking office would be raided".

The voices of Mr Lowry and Mr Phelan are clearly identifiable on the recording and we have verified their authenticity.

The Sunday Independent also had the recording examined by a professional sound engineer, who was able to state that this was a recording of a single conversation and there was no evidence that it had been edited or otherwise interfered or tampered with in any way.

Efforts by the Sunday Independent to make contact with Mr Lowry at both his home and constituency office in Holycross yesterday were unsuccessful.

The Tipperary TD's house appeared to be unoccupied from early morning, while there was no sign of any activity throughout the day at his constituency office, which is located on the premises of his refrigeration company, Streamline Enterprises.

Phone calls to several of his closest political allies proved to be fruitless.

One of those contacted — a Mr Sean Fogarty — took particular exception to the Sunday Independent's intention to publish an article relating to Mr Lowry, saying: "So you're having another go at him are you? Why don't you go after Michael Fingleton or Sean FitzPatrick? Why is it always Michael Lowry?" Notwithstanding his objections, Mr Fogarty said he would endeavour to contact Mr Lowry on our behalf and inform him that we had a reporter in Thurles who would be available to meet at a time and place of his choosing to allow him an opportunity to respond to this newspaper's questions.

Mr Fogarty rang back a short time later to say he had tried several times to contact Mr Lowry but had been unable to reach him.

Another of Mr Lowry's political allies, Cllr Eddie Moran, also agreed to a request from the Sunday Independent to try to contact the TD on our behalf.

Approached by the Sunday Independent, a number of locals said they had not seen Mr Lowry in or around Thurles yesterday.

Indeed, the only place the embattled TD could be found was in the pages of the Tipperary Star newspaper, which carried a feature and a photograph showing Mr Lowry joining in the 100 th birthday celebrations for local resident, Catherine Dunne, at the Sue Ryder Centre in Holycross village.

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