Friday 21 June 2019

Lowry's disgrace

Damning findings against former minister in report

Former minister Michael Lowry pictured in 2010 at Dublin Castle, where the Moriarty Tribunal was taking place

Shane Phelan, Eimear Ni Bhraonain and Siobhan Creaton

FORMER minister Michael Lowry received secret payments from Denis O'Brien after helping the businessman's Esat Digifone consortium win a national mobile phone licence, the Moriarty Tribunal has found.

The tribunal's second and final report made a series of damning findings against the former Transport, Energy and Communications Minister.

The 2,400-page report, examining events surrounding the award of the licence in 1995, concluded:

  • It was "beyond doubt" that Mr Lowry gave "substantive information to Mr O'Brien, of significant value and assistance to him in securing the licence".
  • That one of Mr Lowry's interventions, which cut the selection process to the advantage of Esat, was "disgraceful" and "insidious".
  • That Mr Lowry misled the Government, his party leader John Bruton and his own civil servants to influence the selection process in Esat's favour.
  • That Mr Lowry interfered in the selection process, demanding an early result, which deprived the Government of the chance to scrutinise the selected bid. He "not only influenced, but delivered the result".
  • That the civil service did not act corruptly -- but it was criticised for breaching the confidentiality of the selection process.
  • That Mr O'Brien routed large sums of money to Mr Lowry after the contract was awarded.

Both Mr Lowry and Mr O'Brien have rejected the findings. Mr O'Brien last night denied making any payments to the former minister.

The report, delivered after 14 years of inquiries, now opens the door for unsuccessful bidders to launch a series of multi-million-euro legal actions against the State.

Two unsuccessful bidders for the licence, Persona and Comcast, have already asked the Supreme Court to allow compensation actions to proceed.

Mr Justice Moriarty concluded that a series of payments for the benefit of Mr Lowry were made by Mr O'Brien, who had a 40pc stake in Esat, after the licence was awarded. All of the payments were routed through intermediaries, according to the tribunal findings.

They included:

  • IR£147,000 paid by Mr O'Brien to Fine Gael fundraiser David Austin and then given to Mr Lowry.
  • Stg£300,000 drawn from an O'Brien account by accountant Aidan Phelan and used in connection with two UK property deals involving Mr Lowry.

Mr O'Brien was also found to have provided support for a Stg£420,000 loan given to Mr Phelan in connection with one of the property deals.

Mr Justice Michael Moriarty concluded this amounted to an indirect payment or benefit for Mr Lowry. He also found that Mr O'Brien instigated a payment of $50,000 to Fine Gael two months after the licence was awarded.

Mr Justice Moriarty also described an attempt by Mr Lowry to get businessman Ben Dunne a rent increase as being "profoundly corrupt".

The tribunal said Mr Lowry tried to influence an increase in the lease for the Marlborough House office block in Dublin following a request from Mr Dunne. Telecom Eireann, then a semi-state agency, was based in the building at the time.

The report said Mr Lowry sought to procure unwarranted rent increases that over a seven-year period would have improperly enriched Mr Dunne.

But Mr Dunne denied any wrongdoing on his part. "I have done absolutely nothing wrong in any of my dealings," he said.

Mr Lowry was out of the country when the report was published yesterday. When contacted by the Irish Independent he said hadn't seen the report but was aware of the findings.

"The report is flawed, the assumptions and the conclusions that he (Mr Justice Moriarty) arrives at are totally baseless," Mr Lowry said.

In an interview with the Irish Independent, Mr O'Brien last night angrily dismissed the Moriarty report as "flawed" and "full of hearsay".

He insisted he never gave money to Mr Lowry, and accused Mr Justice Moriarty of ignoring large swathes of evidence in reaching his findings.

"Not a red cent passed to Michael Lowry," he said.

"It is not in my nature to allow somebody to besmirch my reputation without fighting back," he said.

From tonight I will be taking on Mr Justice Moriarty."

Irish Independent

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