‘I never put that through my books or my account’

THE significance of the newly published taped conversation involving Michael Lowry is that, in it, he flatly contradicts evidence he supplied to the Moriarty Tribunal.

The conversation happened more than two years ago, before Mr Lowry took the witness box to explain his interest in English properties and to deny he had a stake in Denis O’Brien’s Doncaster Rovers development plan.

In this testimony, in Mar 2007, Mr Lowry, the former communications minister, publicly explained why he wanted to pay off a Northern Ireland-based property scout.

The account given to the tribunal was that:

* Mr Lowry paid a total of £65,000 to the land agent Kevin Phelan;

* It was the only payment he made to Mr Phelan;

* It was negotiated with the help of his accountant, Denis O’Connor, and it was done through the corporate vehicle he used for his Wigan property, Vineacre Ltd.

The tribunal disagreed. It decided that this was paid to Mr Phelan at a key stage of its investigations in order to mislead the inquiry with a contrived falsehood.

It emphasised that the bulk of the money (£50,000) was signed over the day before Mr Phelan provided a clarification letter to the tribunal.

The purpose of the second letter, according to the tribunal, was to delete a reference to Mr Lowry in the original letter, which had discussed Mr O’Brien’s Doncaster project.

However, Mr Lowry has always rejected this. He said the money was for professional fees and to ensure Mr Phelan had no future claim to his Wigan asset.

The account that Mr Lowry presented in the secretly taped conversation with Mr Phelan is different. It suggests there was at least a £200,000 payment of which the tribunal was not aware.

This also related to the Wigan development, but it did not go through the Vineacre company.

Mr Lowry said in the phonecall that the money was not put through the books.

“They can’t find that 200. I never declared it. It’s nothing to do with this [Doncaster] deal, it’s to do with Vineacre,” he said.

However, another account was offered in the statement Mr Lowry issued last night.

This said the money was put through the books and accounted for, but that it was done via his Irish company, Garuda Ltd, which was the focus of his €1.4m tax settlement with the Revenue Commissioners.

“The payment referred to in the Sunday Independent was made by my company, Garuda Limited, on my behalf,” said Mr Lowry.

“That transaction was properly recorded and accounted for in the records and accounts of Garuda Limited. The payment referred to is fully tax compliant.”

The fact that there are now three accounts of Mr Lowry’s attempt to settle his affairs with Mr Phelan raises three questions.

Why did Mr Lowry discuss a different version of events to the one he subsequently gave to the tribunal? According to a letter, which Mr Lowry’s solicitors were told to send to the tribunal in May 2007, there was no £200,000 payment and everything went through Vineacre Ltd.

“In early 2002, Mr Lowry and Mr Liam Carroll, who was the other party involved in the project, met with Mr Kevin Phelan. A payment of £5,000 was paid on account and arising out of their meeting an all-in figure of £65,000 was agreed,” the letter said.

It also said there were no other payments made to Mr Phelan by Mr Lowry.

But in the taped conversation, recorded two and a half years before this letter was forwarded to the tribunal, Mr Lowry said something else.

“I paid that directly, I never put that through my books or my account or anything. Nobody’s going to fucking get it,” he said.

What does it mean for the inquiry into Mr Lowry’s stake in a land bank near Wigan? The taped conversation took place in 2004. This was a year after Mr Lowry stopped declaring an interest in a section of the Wigan land bank in his register of member’s interests.

He originally bought this property through Vineacre, the company he shared with business partner Liam Carroll. But, in 2003, this parcel of land was transferred into their individual names.

Mr Lowry’s failure to declare the land is under investigation by the Standards in Public Office Commission.

This arose from complaints that his Wigan asset did not appear on the registers of member’s interests he submitted to the Dáil between 2003 and 2012.

However, his defence has been that the remaining 22 acres of land is effectively worthless.

The tape says that, in addition to Mr Lowry’s company paying £65,000 to Mr Phelan to buy out his interest in the wider Wigan plan, Mr Lowry paid another £200,000 to him for his shares in the project. This is on top of over £100,000 Vineacre invested in purchase options for adjoining farms.

If Mr Lowry paid £200,000 to Mr Phelan, why was the tribunal not made aware of it? Despite the tribunal’s findings that Mr Lowry paid Mr Phelan £65,000 to engineer a falsehood, the TD has repeatedly said it had nothing to do with claims that he was also involved in Mr O’Brien’s Doncaster Rovers project.

According to the tribunal, this was despite the £65,000 pay-off being negotiated in tandem with a £150,000 fee Mr O’Brien released to Mr Phelan to buy his stake in the Doncaster scheme.

IN HIS Mar 2007 evidence, Mr Lowry set out the reason why both settlements took place at the same time.

He said he knew Mr O’Brien was involved in resolving a dispute with Mr Phelan.

While that was ongoing, he told Mr O’Connor to make sure there was no situation in which Mr Phelan would stake a claim to the Vineacre property.

“As far as Vineacre was concerned, I had cleared out anything that was outstanding,” said Mr Lowry.

The tribunal counsel twice asked him what he meant by this.

Mr Lowry said Mr Phelan had been “agitating for fee owed in Vineacre and we agreed to give him his fees”.

When he was asked where the money to pay off Mr Phelan had come from, Mr Lowry clearly said it came from Vineacre.

He also said there was documentation to back up this claim. After he consulted with these records, his solicitors, Kelly Noone, wrote the explanatory letter to the tribunal.

In Mar 2007, Mr O’Connor told the tribunal he was not intimately involved in the Wigan deal, but said he remembered there being a settlement with Mr Phelan.

Mr O’Connor’s understanding was that Mr Phelan’s fees were originally based on a “share uplift” agreement. However, he said Mr Lowry was keen for it not to become a difficult situation.

“If I remember correctly, he was trying to get Kevin Phelan, if you like, settled and finished with the Vineacre project,” he said.

But Mr O’Connor said he was kept out of the loop for a lot of the Wigan project and his main involvement with it was when he was dealing with the Revenue Commissioners for Mr Lowry.

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