Wednesday 20 March 2019

Businessman who runs online fundraising platform has 'gone to ground' with €3.8m owed to charities

Peter Conlon Picture by Fergal Phillips.
Peter Conlon Picture by Fergal Phillips.
Breda Heffernan

Breda Heffernan

An Irish businessman whose company runs an online fundraising platform for charities around the world has “gone to ground” with €3.8m owed to client charities.

Among the international charities owed money by Peter Conlon’s firm are the UNHCR, the Red Cross and Save the Children.

Mr Conlon’s current whereabouts are unknown, however there has been a suggestion he may be in custody in Switzerland.

The High Court heard today there are also Irish charities that have not received money owed to them by Pembroke Dynamic Internet Services Ltd, of which Mr Conlon is managing director.

It was alleged that “this misappropriation happened under the direction and control” of Mr Conlon.

Myles Kirby, who was appointed liquidator to the firm last week, yesterday brought an ex-parte application before the High Court seeking a freezing of Mr Conlon’s assets.

Mr Conlon (63), with an address at St Mary’s Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin, is understood to have moved to Switzerland a number of years ago.

The Revenue petitioned to have Pembroke, which previously traded as Ammado Internet Services, wound up last September. Pembroke sought the appointment of an examiner and this was granted but the examinership bid was ultimately unsuccessful and Mr Kirby was appointed liquidator on January 22.

The High Court heard today that the company provided an online donation and fundraising platform through which people could donate money to various charities - with the company taking 5pc of the monies raised.

In his affidavit which was opened to the court, 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.

“(Mr Kirby) can find no explanation whatsoever why the company could have a deficit of this magnitude.”

He added that Mr Conlon had “gone to ground” and has been uncontactable.

“There is a suggestion from Mr Conlon’s brother that Mr Conlon may be in custody in Switzerland arising out of an investigation by Swiss authorities,” said Mr Fanning. The Swiss investigation is believed to be in relation to Pembroke’s parent company, Ammado AG.

The court was told that Mr Kirby’s concerns were “particularly heightened” as the parties owed €3.8m include charities.

“The UNHCR, Red Cross and Save the Children are amongst the charities Mr Kirby believes are owed the money,” said Mr Fanning.

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

Mr Fanning said: “At the time of Mr Conlon’s petition for the protection of the court, he had already commenced the process of moving assets out of the company.”

He highlighted two transactions which saw Mr Conlon pay €40,000 to a woman with whom he is believed to be “romantically involved with” and another €5,000 to a daughter living in the UK. He alleged Mr Conlon also attempted to remove money from his pension.

Granting the order freezing Mr Conlon’s assets, Ms Justice Caroline Costello said: “The picture is a very grave one giving rise to the utmost concerns. The balance lies in favour of approving the reliefs sought in his case.” The case was adjourned to February 9.

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