Project says allegations are 'lost in translation'
DOCUMENTS drawn up to target potential Chinese investors to the Athlone Hub are published on the website www.athloneecth.com.
It has been used since 2009 to promote the project in China -- although it was taken offline yesterday.
Information on the website, including a key document entitled 'Euro Chinese Trading Hub -- Introduction to Upfront Investment Plan', was translated from Chinese to English for this newspaper by a commercial translation service operated by Dublin City University. When challenged on the claims, project spokesman John Tiernan distanced shareholders from the website.
He said it was produced by another firm, the information was out-of-date and some of the wording and meaning of the claims was either "inaccurate" or "lost in translation".
However, the website was updated as recently as June last year, a month after planning permission for the project was sought from Westmeath County Council.
DCU stands over its translation, saying its translator is experienced and based in China.
Claim 1: "The Irish Government has signed a series of related agreements with our company to provide a lot of preferential policies to investors from China . . . The Irish Government has proposed . . . to sell a batch of finished residential units to Chinese companies or individuals who are about to take a place in the 'Hub'."
response from the athlone hub: "The Irish Government has not signed any agreements in relation to selling houses to investors. The statement you quote is either inaccurate or there has been some loss of intended meaning in translation."
Claim 2: "The Government of Ireland also promised to provide Chinese companies . . . with preferential policies, such as priority processing, quick handling, and reasonable requirements with regard to visa, immigration, children education, and business setup."
response: "At the outset in 2009 we met with officials in the Department of Justice for clarification of the position that would pertain in the event that a project such as ours were to be fully activated. The position is not preferential -- we have operated within the normal framework. We did request that there should be a speedy protocol in place for processing of visas for prospective investors coming to view the site."
Claim 3: "Foreign investors should have an asset certificate indicating that they have assets of €300,000 in Ireland. The Government of Ireland agrees, for companies or individuals participating in the 'Hub' project, that their investment in residential units can be counted in their asset certificates to meet the requirements of €300,000."
response: "Investment in residential property does not qualify within the requirements for business investors to qualify for visas/work-permits under the Irish Government business investment scheme. The statement you quote is either inaccurate or there has been some loss of meaning in translation."
Claim 4: A new "urban highway" is planned to the north of Athlone, and a new airport will be developed.
response: The highway refers to the proposed 'Loughandonning Link Road' to the centre of Athlone, while the airport proposal is for a "separate and independent private proposal" at Clara in Co Offaly.