Finnish firm had 'an agency agreement' to pay commission to Michael Lowry's company, trial told

: Independent TD and former government minister Michael Lowry at court today. Picture: Courtpix

By Sonya McLean

A former CEO of a Finnish refrigeration company has told a jury that his company had “an agency agreement” to pay commission to Michael Lowry's company for Irish sales.

Giving evidence from Finland via video-link, Fred Ramberg agreed with Remy Farrell SC, prosecuting that if his company, Norpe Oy, supplied to a retail outlet in Ireland, a commission would be paid to Streamline, the trading name for Mr Lowry's company Garuda Ltd.

The witness agreed with counsel that an agency agreement, signed by both he and Mr Lowry on November 1, 1997, outlined in the “terms of agreement” that the agent should be entitled to a commission of five percent on all sales.

Mr Ramberg agreed that it stated that the agreement was between Norpe OY and Michael Lowry but that Mr Lowry's name was crossed out and handwritten in its place was Glebe Trust, with an address in the Isle of Man.

He agreed that he had written in the change and had initialled it but was not able to indicate when he did this, “I'm not sure. I guess 2008” before he confirmed that he had “no clue” who Glebe Trust are.

Michael O'Higgins SC, defending Mr Lowry, told Mr Ramberg that his client claims he was on holidays in Spain in August 2002 when a person he owed money to put him under pressure to pay it. He said that Mr Lowry then contacted Mr Ramberg and asked that the commission owed to him be paid directly to this man.

“I'm not aware,” Mr Ramberg replied.

The statement of an interview of Stella Lipponen, who worked in the accounts department with Norpe from October 2001, with the Finish police, was then read to the jury. She confirmed a payment of €388,788.12 was paid on August 28, 2002 and that the payee referred to was Glebe Trust.

She told officers she didn't know why the account ledger displayed a different payee.

Mr Lowry (61) of Glenreigh, Holycross, Co. Tipperary earlier pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to four charges of filing incorrect tax returns on dates between August 2002 and August 2007 in relation to a sum of Stg £248,624 received by his company, Garuda Ltd and one charge in relation to failing to keep a proper set of accounts on dates between 28 August 2002 and August 3, 2007.

He further pleaded not guilty on behalf of Garuda Ltd to three similar charges in relation to the company's tax affairs and one charge of failing to keep a proper set of accounts on the same dates.

It is the State's case that Mr Lowry's company received Stg £248,624 in commission from Norpe OY in August 2002. It is alleged that Mr Lowry arranged for this payment to be made to a third party, residing in the Isle of Man, and therefore it didn't appear in the company accounts for that year nor did he declare it as income.

It is further alleged that the accounts were then falsified in 2007 to reflect that the payment was received in 2006.

“It was the accountant's version of re-fried beans. The books are cooked in 2002, a sum of money is kept off the books and in 2007, the 2006 books are cooked again to bring the money in without drawing attention to it,” Remy Farrell SC, told the jury in his opening address.

Mr Farrell told the jury that it is the State's case that a sum of Stg £248,624 received by Mr Lowry's company and not declared to Revenue, “would have amounted to 88% of the company's certified gross profits for the year”.

In evidence Mr Ramberg agreed with Mr Farrell that he resigned as CEO of Norpe OY in August 1998 and stayed on as a board member but said this still did not help him recall when he made the handwritten change to the agency agreement.

Mr Ramberg acknowledged a second agency agreement between Norpe Oy and Glenreigh, Holycross, Thurles, which again states that the agent should be entitled to a commission of 5 percent and is signed by both him and Mr Lowry on the same day in November 1997.

When asked by counsel why there are two agreements signed on the same day, Mr Ramberg replied, “I don't remember”.

“Is it your evidence that you have no recollection at all,” Mr Farrell said.

“I'm a bit confused. I don't recall,” Mr Ramberg said.

He said he didn't know if any payments were made under either of these agreements while he was CEO.

Mr Ramberg agreed with Mr O'Higgins that there was a third agency agreement, which counsel said had been provided by Garuda Ltd.

He acknowledged that it contained Norpe OY's logo and as such was a more “official looking document” than the other two which had been presented to the jury.

Mr Ramberg agreed this “was actually in operation between Norpe and Garuda, trading as Streamline Enterprises”.

He further agreed with Mr O'Higgins that he mentioned “in a police interview” about five years ago that he was aware that Mr Lowry had “a live ongoing issue with Revenue”.

Counsel suggested to Mr Ramberg that the agreement which was in operation with Norpe was the one with Garuda because the others were “substitute agreements in place because there was a live issue with Revenue and there was a concern over which entity was going to engage with Norpe”.

“I cannot be sure but it's most likely,” Mr Ramberg replied.

Ms Lipponen's statement said that Norpe paid commission to Michael Lowry in relation to sales or installations in the early 2000s.

She said she didn't know what company names the payments went under but said Norpe always required an invoice to process a payment and assumed the payee details would have been included on any invoices supplied.

She said she didn't know if any payments went through the Isle of Man and said she didn't know why two agency agreements existed because they were created before she began working there in 2001.

The trial continues before Judge Martin Nolan and jury of eight men and four women.

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