Sunday 22 July 2018

Businessman vanishes, some 800 charities told funds may be lost

Peter Conlon, from Ammado.com. Photo: Fergal Phillips/The Sunday Times
Peter Conlon, from Ammado.com. Photo: Fergal Phillips/The Sunday Times
Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

At least 800 charities are being contacted and told money donated to them through an Irish website may be missing amid a worldwide hunt for any of the €3.8m allegedly misappropriated from a collapsed Dublin technology company.

High profile businessman Peter Conlon, a former EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, who set up the collapsed company, is understood to be in custody in Switzerland.

The missing funds were uncovered and Irish authorities alerted after the Revenue appointed liquidator Myles Kirby, of Dublin firm Kirby Healy, to recover approximately €400,000 in unpaid taxes from Pembroke Dynamic Internet Services on January 22.

Irish charities ranging in scale from Trócaire and Concern to parish-level GAA clubs and local animal shelters, along with hundreds of international good-causes, were signed up to use the Ammado fund-raising website before the spectacular events of the past week. The liquidator has now begun contacting charities that used the service.

"It would appear that at least 800 charities may be affected by the liquidation of the company, which is connected to the Ammado Foundation," according to a letter sent on behalf of liquidator, seen by the Irish Independent, that has been received by managers at hundreds of charities in Ireland and overseas. "The liquidator has established that there is likely to be a shortfall to the charities and is examining the records to ascertain what amounts, if any, are due to the individual charities. Given the number of charities and transactions involved, that exercise is likely to take some time."

On Tuesday, as the picture within the business emerged, the High Court granted a freezing order preventing Peter Conlon or anyone linked to him moving or selling his assets anywhere in the world.

It's understood that, armed with that freezing order, the liquidator is now also on the trail of any assets that might be linked to the missing millions and potentially recovered either for the charities or for the business.

It was alleged in court on Tuesday that "misappropriation (of charity funds) happened under the direction and control" of Mr Conlon.

Since the liquidator's dramatic rush to the court, three state agencies, the Charities Regulator, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, and gardaí are now all involved in overlapping probes into the collapsed firm.

But the scale of the latest crisis to grip the charities sector raises serious questions about regulatory oversight of companies and charities.

Despite being responsible for its own money and millions on behalf of charities, Pembroke Dynamic had no financial controller.

Authorities in Switzerland appear to have acted much earlier than those here, in response to intelligence from Swiss-based charities.

The Ammado website was disabled yesterday.

However, according to the latest Companies Office filings a company called Ammado Technologies Ltd, where Peter Conlon is listed as a director, continues to trade as normal despite the by-now well-aired concerns.

The Irish Independent has also now learned that Peter Conlon attempted as late as December 6 last year to find new financial backers, circulating a prospectus that claimed Ammado Technologies had no debts and owned valuable intellectual property, despite the main related trading business being on the brink of collapse by that point.

Pembroke Dynamic previously traded as Ammado Internet Services.

In his affidavit which was opened to the court last Tuesday, Mr Kirby said the platform took in €5.8m in donations between March 2016 and September 2017. It took in another €396,000 from December 12, 2017 to January 12, 2018.

Rossa Fanning, SC for the liquidator, said in the past week Mr Kirby had discovered there was a €3.8m deficit in funds that ought to have been remitted to the charities.

The court heard there is currently just €357,000 in the company's bank account.

In his affidavit, Mr Kirby says he believes Mr Conlon has "demonstrated his intention to dispose of assets and put them beyond my reach".

Irish Independent

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