By Alison O'Riordan
A High Court judge has indicated that she will make an order next month to extradite a Cork-born man to the Netherlands in connection with an alleged roof-repair scam.
Denis Harrington (42), formerly of Ballyspillane, Killlarney, Co Kerry is wanted in the Netherlands for seven alleged offences of fraud or attempted fraud between 2014 and 2015 whereby “several, mainly senior, people were approached by a group of Irish Travellers. The people were caught off guard with the message that necessary work had to be done on the roofs of their houses.”
“Before they knew and before strict deals had been concluded, the ladders were against the outside of the walls, the Irish men were on the roof and had started working, which meant roof tiles were removed and battens taken off. In some cases damage was done and leaks were caused purposefully,” Dutch authorities stated.
Mr Harrington was arrested and brought before the High Court in November 2017 on foot of a European Arrest Warrant issued by Dutch authorities in August of that year.
Lawyers for Mr Harrington argued today that there were some "ambiguities" in the warrant and it should be resolved in favour of their client.
In reply, Jim Benson BL for the Minister for Justice, said the respondent was raising an issue in relation to a verbal warrant which is permissible in the Netherlands.
Delivering her judgement today, Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly said Mr Harrington had raised a number of issues, particularly that a verbal warrant had been issued and that there were “ambiguities” and “too much confusion” in the warrant for it to be accepted.
“It is undoubtedly the case that information has been given about the warrant, it is quite detailed in what it said and there is no necessity to get written confirmation of the verbal warrant. Different legal systems are at issue and it has never been challenged that Dutch law provides for such a warrant to be issued in those circumstances,” Ms Justice Donnelly remarked.
The judge said Mr Harrington’s arrest warrant incorrectly referred to 10 alleged offences and it should have been made clear that this warrant related to seven alleged offences. “In my view that does not mean there is a difficulty. We do know that this court has to give mutual trust and mutual recognition to the public prosecutor in the Hague and it is clear she is stating that there is a warrant for his arrest,” she added.
Ms Justice Donnelly said there was “ample evidence” and “sufficient detail” to know exactly what Mr Harrington was being sought for and what was being alleged against him.
The respondent is currently serving a prison sentence in the State until December 20, the court heard. As a result, the judge said she would postpone Mr Harrington’s surrender to the Netherlands until then and make a final order on that date.
According to the warrant, “the Irish men used false names and submitted offers under false / fictitious company names”.
“In many cases the agreements were not kept after which they left without a trace. In a number of cases, the money was paid in cash, but they also used bank account numbers for money to be transferred. As soon as the amount hit the account, it was withdrawn. The group made use of straw men.”
“Other persons were approached who had already been confronted and harmed by the Irish Travellers and they were told that indeed something had gone wrong and that they could get their money back. However, first an amount of money had to be deposited.”
Dutch authorities state that on March 19, 2014, two men told a Ms Duynstee that the roof of her house was in bad condition. “Not being an expert herself, she thought that indeed there might be problems. While she was talking to the men, one of them went up the roof and told her what was wrong. The repairs would cost €7,000.”
“Ms Duynstee was caught off guard,” the warrant states. She felt “under pressure” and “that it was too late to say no to them. Thereupon she had gone to the bank with the men in their car and had given them €5,000.”
Ms Duynstee's daughter took a photo of the spokesman for the Irish men. This photograph showed similarities with the police photograph of Denis Harrington, the warrant states.
In early 2014, a group of Irish men came to the home of a Mr Westerhoff with an offer to clean the facade. Mr Westerhoff agreed to pay €8,500, which he transferred. The men worked “for about two hours after which they left never to be seen again”. The following January, an English-speaking man presented himself to the Westerhoff home falsely claiming that he had been hired by AXA Insurance. “To get his money back, Westerhoff had to transfer money. First he was told to transfer €8,500 and when he made it clear he was not ready to do so, the man told him to transfer €5,500. Then Westerhoff was called by a man who spoke Dutch and who presented himself as being somebody from ING Bank.”
According to the warrant, when a police photograph of Denis Harrington was shown to Mr Westerhoff, he recognised this man as the person who had come to his door in 2015 “with the AXA story”.
In 2013, English-speaking persons had done work on the Grunewalds' home. The occupiers stated that they paid €20,000 but it may have been much higher, about €40,000. Each time the men wanted cash, which Grunewald had paid in large part. In January 2015, an English-speaking man presented himself as John Walsh, falsely claiming that he worked for AXA Insurance. He told Mr Grunewald that he knew Irish men had financially harmed him but there were possibilities to get his money back. Then Mr Grunewald was called by a Dutch speaking man claiming to be from the ING Bank. He purportedly confirmed Walsh's story. “However, Grunewald would first have to pay €5,500 before the insurance company would handle his case.”
When a photograph of Mr Harrington was shown to Mr Grunewald, he recognised this man as the person who had come to his door in 2015 “with the AXA story” and who had presented himself as John Walsh. This name was also used in other incidents, the warrant states.
On March 24, 2014, a Ms Tjoo was told that the roof of her house was in bad condition and that it needed repairing. For the repairs on the roof and raising and tidying the garden, a heavy built man with red hair asked for €5,000. She had to pay this amount the same day. “Ms Tjoo got the feeling that she could not refuse. In the presence of the men she transferred €3,000 to a bank account. The tiles in the front yard were cleaned but for the other work they would come back the next day.”
The same day, in the same neighbourhood, a Ms Van Vliet was approached by an English speaking man with remarkable red/ginger hair. The man told her that he was working on her neighbours’ house. She agreed with the man that for €1,000 he would renovate the walls and tiles in the garden. Later on the man told her that the ridge tiles were broken and that the wood was in very bad condition. The man advised her to have the roof repaired and insulated. He would do this for €7,500. She had to pay in advance. He was prepared to drive her to the bank. She was to transfer the amount to a certain account.
Also on March 24, 2014, a Ms Fijnvandraat saw some men working on the roof of her neighbours. Then three men approached her and told her that they have a look at her roof to see whether something would have to be done. She was told that the roof battens would have to be replaced as well as the insulation material. She was also told that the front and rear facade would be cleaned and newly pointed and that both terraces in the front and back yard would be raised. This would cost her €7,500.
The man acted very coercively and she had felt intimidated. She transferred €2,000. She had come home earlier than planned. She was certain that no work had been done on the roof. She never saw anyone working on the roof again.
On June 9, 2014, a Mr Bouma was approached by an English-speaking man who said he worked for an insurance company. Mr Bouma was told that he could recuperate money that he had paid to a fraudulent company in 2013. Then the man handed over his telephone to Mr Bouma and he was spoken to by a Dutch-speaking him who told him to transfer €9,400 to a certain bank account. The English-speaking man told him he was going to get some papers, but he never returned. This man had a robust stature and red/ginger hair.
“Given the modus operandi, the insurance story, a known straw man and the fact that the man had red/ginger hair, it is not inconceivable that the man referred to is Denis Harrington,” the warrant states.