DUBLIN: ROTTEN WITH CORRUPTION: Former Minister Helped Businessman To Get Mobile Phone Licence: Report

22 Mar

A report from the Moriarty Tribunal has found that the former Communications Minister Michael Lowry assisted businessman Denis O’Brien in acquiring a mobile telephone licence in the mid-90s.

 Denis O'Brien - Made series of challenges to the Moriarty Tribunal
 Denis O’Brien – Made series of challenges to the Moriarty Tribunal.

The second and final report of the Moriarty Tribunal has been published.

Moriarty Report summary | main points
Full report Part 1 | 2
Statements Michael Lowry | Denis O’Brien
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The inquiry was established in 1997 to look into the financial affairs of former Taoiseach Charles Haughey and former Fine Gael communications minister Michael Lowry.

This final report details the investigation into possible links between businessman Denis O’Brien and Michael Lowry.

A report from the Moriarty Tribunal has found that the former Communications Minister Michael Lowry assisted businessman Denis O’Brien in acquiring a mobile telephone licence in the mid-90s.

The second and final report from the Tribunal of Inquiry has concluded it is ‘beyond doubt’ that Mr Lowry gave what it termed ‘substantive information to Denis O’Brien, of significant value and assistance to him in securing the licence’.

The Tribunal report found that Michael Lowry TD, displayed ‘an appreciable interest’ in the process and had ‘irregular interactions with interested parties at its most sensitive stages’.

It also found that Mr. Lowry sought and received substantive information on emerging trends and made his preferences on the leading candidates known.

The report also found that Mr Lowry proceeded to bypass consideration by his Cabinet colleagues and thereby not only influenced, but delivered the result that Esat Digifone had won the evaluation process which ultimately led to the licensing award.

The report describes these matters as elements of Mr Lowry’s ‘insidious and pervasive influence’ on the process.

The Moriarty Tribunal report says that the ‘most pervasive and abusive instance’ of Michael Lowry’s influence on the awarding of the mobile phone licence to Esat Digifone was his action in withdrawing time from the Project Group, when they had requested an extension to their work because they were not convinced that Esat Digifone should be nominated as the winner.

The group had asked for extra time because they were confused about the weightings applied and how the result had emerged, and wanted an opportunity to revisit and review the evaluation.

Ben Dunne

The tribunal found that Michael Lowry sought to procure unwarranted rent increases that over a seven year period would have improperly enriched Ben Dunne.

The tribunal found that Lowry sought to influence the outcome of an arbitration being conducted in 1995 in relation to the rent payable by Telecom Eireann for Marlborough House to a company owned and controlled by Ben Dunne.

The report concludes the matter was, ‘profoundly corrupt to a degree that was nothing short of breathtaking’. Ben Dunne has rejected the findings and has insisted he is not a corrupt Businessman, he has said if the Tribunal feels he acted outside the law they should forward a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions so that the Director could consider action.

He told RTÉ’s Liveline that he would not run away from the allegations in the report and would defend himself.

The report comments on documents in the possession of Esat Digifone which were ‘never intended to any applicant’, the documents were confidential correspondence between then Minister Michael Lowry and EU Commissioner Van Meirt.

The documents had made their way to the tribunal via Mr Jarleth Burke who had represented Denis O’Brien’s interests in dealing with the Commission and the Department, the Tribunal said they were documents which Mr Burke had ‘no business having in his possession’.

The documents contained ‘sensitive information’ on the weighting adopted by the project group.

The report states it is unable to conclude how the information on the weighting matrix adopted by the project group was obtained by the company.

Payments to Michael Lowry

The report also summaries the cumulative payments made to Michael Lowry and says ‘In aggregating the known payments from Mr Denis O Brien to Mr Michael Lowry, it is apposite to note that, between the granting of the second GSM licence to Esat Digiphone in May 1996, and the transmission of £420,000 sterling to complete the purchase of the latter of Mr Lowry’s English properties in December 1999, Mr O’Brien had made or facilitated payments to Mr. Lowry of £147,000 sterling, £300,000 sterling and a benefit equivalent to a payment in the form of Mr O’Brien’s support for a loan of £420,000 sterling.’

The report adds that the value of the sums mentioned, ‘in today’s terms, is obviously well in excess of the amounts transferred at the various times mentioned in this Report.’

The Moriarty Tribunal report says that during the period of the competition for the mobile phone licence and subsequent licensing negotiations, Denis O’Brien or his companies supported 14 Fine Gael fundraising events, and contributed a total of £22,140 by way of donations to Fine Gael.

The report states that Michael Lowry, displayed ‘an appreciable interest’ in the process and had ‘irregular interactions with interested parties’ at what it terms ‘most sensitive stages’.

The report says it ‘finds it wholly incredibale and inconceivable’ that the GSM process was not raised and discussed at informal meetings between then Mr Lowry and Mr O’Brien.

The Tribunal says it ‘rejects the evidence’ of both men regarding a meeting they held in a Dublin pub after an all-Ireland final in 1995.

Businessman Denis O’Brien said that the report from the Tribunal was ‘fundamentally flawed’ because he said it is ‘based on the opinions and theories of Mr Justice Michael Moriarty and his legal team’.

Mr O’Brien insisted that he never made any payment to Mr Lowry in his capacity as a Government Minister, as a public representative or as a private citizen.

Mr Lowry is not in the country at the moment, but in a statement issued to RTÉ News said he ‘totally rejects the tenor of the Moriarty report’.

He said Mr. Moriarty has ‘outrageously abused the Tribunals ability to form opinions which are not substantiated by evidence or fact’.

He said that the report has no basis in law and he said he would study it in detail and in due course challenge its veracity.

FG members will be available for questions – Kenny

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said members of his party will be available to answer questions in the Dáil regarding any part they played in the awarding of the mobile phone licence to Esat Digiphone in 1995.

This afternoon in the Dáil, Mr Kenny said he was informed about the impending publication of the report this morning when he was on his way to a Cabinet meeting.

Mr Kenny said he had yet to read or glance at the report and said it deserves serious attention to be given to it.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin described the report as a ‘damning indictment’ on the then government’s decision to award the licence and said it’s a matter of grave importance and has implications for the State and the taxpayer.

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