Friday 16 November 2018

Consumer hero Hobbs 'nailed to cross' by critics

EDDIE Hobbs, the man who highlighted the full extent of rip-off Ireland in his hit television programme, says he is being "crucified" by his critics. "With beatification comes crucifixion," he said, "and I'm getting the nails through the hands and feet today."

LIAM COLLINS and FRANK KHAN

EDDIE Hobbs, the man who highlighted the full extent of rip-off Ireland in his hit television programme, says he is being "crucified" by his critics.

"With beatification comes crucifixion," he said, "and I'm getting the nails through the hands and feet today."

He also revealed to the Sunday Independent that he had refused to go on Pat Kenny's Late Late Show because he felt he was being bullied into it.

As the political backlash against consumers' champion Hobbs continued yesterday, a Sunday Independent nationwide telephone poll showed that the cost of living is the biggest single matter of concern for the public. It registered 86 per cent when people were asked to rate their concerns on a scale of 1 to 10.

Indirect taxation or stealth tax came second highest with a concern rating of 82per cent.

Mr Hobbs had been expected to go head-to-head with Minister Micheal Martin on Friday night's Late Late Show, to debate these issues, but yesterday he said he pulled out of that because he felt he was being bullied.

He said he did not go on the show, despite it being advertised on television, because Pat Kenny and the producers wanted to control his media appearances and prevent him giving any other interviews before appearing as a guest.

"Officially, it's a misunderstanding, but they were trying to bully me into doing it their way and I wasn't doing that," said Mr Hobbs.

Last night a spokeswoman for RTE said: "We deny the claim that he was bullied. What happened was a misunderstanding about the whole piece."

She said a 'promo' had been aired about his planned appearance which "should not have gone out" but that since then, he had appeared widely in the media, including appearing on the Marian Finucane Show yesterday and he will be appearing on the Questions and Answers programme tomorrow night.

The Late Late Show handled some of the issues raised in Eddie's excellent Rip-Off Republic series on Friday night and RTE was happy this was done.

Meanwhile, Mr Hobbs revealed that he had told the Late Late Show at least a week before Friday night's debate on Rip-Off Republic that he would not be doing the show.

"What I want to do is move the debate on to news and current affairs. The programme was great and I enjoyed it, but it was entertainment and I wanted to move on from that."

Asked if he was afraid to debate with his former schoolmate Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Micheal Martin on live television, he said "certainly not".

Instead, Mr Hobbs says he will be appearing tomorrow night on Questions & Answers and will debate any issues brought up by any members of the panel or audience. "I don't know who I am going on with, I would be quite happy to participate with any representative of government or industry," he said.

Yesterday as he firmly denied allegations made by the convicted fraudster, Tony Taylor, that he (Hobbs) helped clients evade tax, Mr Hobbs said some of his detractors are trying to undermine his conclusions that consumers' pockets are being hit hard by Government project over-runs, business profit mark-ups and by spiralling professional charges which cost them millions.

On the Marian Finucane Show yesterday, Mr Hobbs said he expected a four-pronged strategic response to Rip-Off Ireland: (1) do nothing; (2) attack the assumptions; (3) completely ignore it; (4) shoot the messenger. Said Mr Hobbs: "The 'shoot the messenger' has definitely happened."

He added: "I am not turning myself into a victim, but I did expect to be found nailed to the tourist sign at the crossroads with the sign 'Death to Informers' around my neck."

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Hobbs denied that there is "any major investigation" into his activities as a financial planner in the early Nineties while working for the disgraced insurance broker Tony Taylor.

Taylor, who was jailed for fraud after the collapse of his investment and insurance companies, has circulated a 'dossier' on the television presenter, who was an employee and later a director of one of his companies.

Asked detailed questions about the allegations, Mr Hobbs said on Friday he could not discuss the matter until the liquidator, Paddy McSwiney, has completed his report.

The Sunday Independent has seen a copy of Mr McSwiney's report to the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority (IFSRA) dated June 1, 2005. It reads in part:

"Mr Taylor has made a complaint to IFSRA concerning Eddie Hobbs who was one of the directors of the company and certain clients of the Taylor group. I was asked by IFSRA to assist in the investigation of the complaints as I had the files. Having completed initial investigations with the assistance of Mr Taylor I reported back to IFSRA who are seeking legal advice.

"As it appears some of the files I investigated suggest the avoidance of tax by individuals, I am of the view that I am required under S.299 of the Companies Act to report such offences. I have met with the revenue to discuss the appropriate way to make such a report as the legislation was different when these alleged offences took place."

Mr McSwiney also referred to Section 150 of the Companies Act which refers to court proceedings to restrict directors of insolvent companies. Such proceedings are a standard feature of any compulsory liquidation.

"The applications have been drafted and are ready to be made against four Directors of the (Tony Taylor) companies. I will need possibly to include details of the complaint and the reporting in the applications so these cannot be completed until these investigations are complete."

Mr Hobbs, who has shot to fame with the Rip-Off Republic series, has previously said he would answer any allegations against him when the liquidator completed his ten-year investigation into the Taylor companies, Taylor Asset Managers, Taylor Investment Group, Taylor and Associates and Rolyat Limited, all in liquidation.

The allegations made against him by Tony Taylor refer to events in 1993 at a time when Irish banks were attempting to move money held by clients in 'Bogus Non-Resident Accounts' to offshore subsidiaries, mainly in the secretive Isle of Man.

Yesterday Mr Hobbs reacted angrily to an article which appeared in last week's issue of Village magazine, which, he says, portrays him as having orchestrated tax fraud.

The article referred to two separate files handled by Mr Hobbs, one of which related to an account set up, in what Village says, was bogus names and a bogus address.

The second complaint related to an unnamed individual in the magazine who subsequently made a tax settlement with the Revenue Commissioners for ?1,256,004 in interest and penalties.

The individual who made the settlement was identified in yesterday's Irish Times as Dr George Lyons, retired, of Unacullen, Clahane, Ballyard, Tralee, Co Kerry.

He said he did not inform Mr Hobbs at any time that some of the funds being moved were undeclared.

Asked by the newspaper of his dealings with Mr Hobbs, Dr Lyons said: "I don't think I would have ever said to him some of this would have been from a bogus non-resident account." Tony Taylor's fraudulent activities and subsequent whereabouts were uncovered by Hobbs who said he (Taylor) has been passing on old files to the media.

In the early Nineties, Mr Hobbs worked for the Taylor Group as managing director of a financial planning company called Taylor Integrated Planning Services Ltd (TIPS Ltd). It had two staff and gave advice on pension, mortgages and inheritance tax planning.

However in 1996, Hobbs discovered Tony Taylor's fraudulent activities. After Mr Taylor went into hiding, Hobbs hired a private investigator to track him down and Taylor was subsequently arrested, tried and convicted.

"Since his release, Taylor has been circulating these allegations and documentation against me," said Hobbs.

Hobbs added: "I have never acted unlawfully and any statement or inference to the contrary is incorrect. No charges or prosecutions have ever been brought against me and neither do I expect any.

"I have always been totally aware that when I engaged in something with a high-profile like Rip-Off Republic that Tony Taylor would come out of the woodwork," said Eddie.

Hobbs said that he was a financial adviser and not a tax adviser and that clients had responsibility for their own tax affairs.

He said that the matters complained of related to the tax affairs of individuals and not to the employees of the companies. In his complaint to the financial regulator, Tony Taylor alleges that Eddie Hobbs facilitated tax evasion while working for the Taylor Group.

Next month, as is standard in any liquidation, an application is to be made by the liquidator of the Taylor investment companies to the High Court seeking direction on whether Eddie Hobbs should be restricted as a director of companies under Section 150 of the Companies Act 1990 along with three other directors. A restriction order seems unlikely in the circumstances.

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