Lowry kept €34k bonuses meant for staff

MICHAEL LOWRY pocketed £34,500 intended as a Christmas bonus from Dunnes Stores for staff of his refrigeration company, according to a little-publicised finding of the Moriarty Tribunal.

The chairman of the inquiry, Mr Justice Michael Moriarty described this as among the “most reprehensible” of actions carried out the Tipperary North TD, in using money paid to his company, Garuda, for personal benefit.

The payments, ranging from £6,000 to £12,000, were made each year between 1989 and 1992 by Ben Dunne.

The Moriarty Tribunal also remarked how Mr Lowry continued to describe his occupation as a “company director” in banking documentation at a time when as a government minister he had been obliged to resign his directorship of Garuda.

The report said Mr Lowry’s response that he had remained a director in his mind carried “minimal conviction.” “It can only realistically be viewed as indicating a wish to remain as inconspicuous as possible,” concluded Mr Justice Moriarty.

Garuda was established by Mr Lowry in August 1988 at the specific encouragement of Mr Dunne, who awarded him the contract for the supply and maintenance of refrigeration units in all Dunnes Stores’ outlets in the Republic.

Garuda, which traded under the name Streamline Enterprises, also used the same auditors as Dunnes Stores.

The report of the earlier McCracken Tribunal, which investigated payments from Mr Dunne to Mr Lowry, observed that the company became a business with only one customer and its future was linked entirely to the goodwill of the supermarket group.

Mr Justice McCracken said Garuda was virtually subsumed into Dunnes Stores and was effectively a division of the grocery chain.

Dunnes Stores also financed the start-up costs of the company, including the cost of acquiring a site and the construction of a warehouse for the firm in Thurles.

A purported loan of £165,000 by Dunnes Stores to Garuda to develop its headquarters was described by Mr Justice McCracken as “a sham”.

Subsequently, refurbishment work on Mr Lowry’s home at Holycross, Co Tipperary, worth £395,107, was paid by Dunnes Stores. However, the payment was treated in the supermarket’s accounts as payment for work done at the Ilac Centre in Dublin.

The tribunal concluded that such payments, as well as other bonuses paid to Mr Lowry, were designed to assist the politician to evade tax.

In 2005, Garuda reached a settlement with Revenue to pay over €1.26m in outstanding tax, interest and penalties, while Mr Lowry paid €192,120 in a personal capacity to the tax authorities.

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