Wife’s deals see horse director quit post

The new director of international affairs at Horse Racing Ireland has resigned after twice being sanctioned for a serious conflict of interest involving his wife’s business.

Michael O’Hagan, also the chief executive of Irish Thoroughbred Marketing, quit with immediate effect on Monday.

His shock departure was accepted after HRI disciplined him because his wife, Josephine Maher O’Hagan, acted as a private sales consultant to ITM’s Chinese clients. A key part of Mr O’Hagan’s job was to fly buyers into the country, entertain them, and organise deals. While they were brought over to look at thoroughbred racehorses, they also bought showjumpers through Mrs O’Hagan’s business, China Ireland Consultancy. HRI said these deals breached its code of ethics.

His resignation came four months after he was disciplined for an identical issue.

HRI said it received anonymous correspondence in February regarding transactions involving Mrs O’Hagan. It said while some claims could not be verified, there “was evidence of a breach of our code of conduct and ethics regarding conflicts of interest”.

The HRI said there was no evidence that any of its money was misappropriated. However, it had discovered sufficient information to sanction Mr O’Hagan.

Despite this, in May, Mr O’Hagan was promoted to become the HRI’s director of communications and international affairs.

HRI said it was subsequently alerted to evidence that the couple’s business “behaviour had not ceased in its entirety”.

This related to another deal involving Mrs O’Hagan. It is understood there was scrutiny surrounding the sale of one showjumper to an Asian client in March.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr O’Hagan denied there was any wrongdoing. He said that all of the Chinese clients involved also bought racehorses.

“There were a considerable number of thoroughbred sales done as well that are nothing to do with anything you referred to.”

Mr O’Hagan said he regretted that his reputation would now be tarnished. “I have worked for the industry my entire life and I have what I hope is very clear and good reputation around the world as somebody who has put the Irish industry and the Irish thoroughbred industry to the fore.”

In 2011, ITM and HRI spent €34,527 accommodating and entertaining Chinese clients who were invited to look at thoroughbreds, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show. It also spent €15,067 sending its staff, including Mr O’Hagan, to China to develop trade links.

The HRI said, following its initial investigation, the department was made aware that there were findings against Mr O’Hagan.

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