A major scandal has erupted in the 26 Counties over the knockdown sale by a state-run bank of the bankrupt firm Siteserv to billionaire Denis O’Brien (pictured), a backer of the governing Fine Gael party.
It is alleged that O’Brien benefited unfairly from the sale of the company for 40 million euro by the former Anglo-Irish Bank, now known as the IBRC (Irish Bank Resolution Corporation).
The sale is controversial because 105 million euro of taxpayers’ money was written off, while shareholders in the hopelessly bankrupt firm received a payout of five million euro. Siteserv was later awarded a valuable contract by the state to install Irish Water meters.
The scandal has erupted as protests over new water charges have become increasingly fraught. Gardai used pepper spray at one demonstration in Dublin during the week, arresting left wing TD Joan Collins for ‘obstruction’. Last weekend, up to twenty thousand again marched in Dublin city centre.
The issue of the Siteserv sale has been raised on successive days this week by opposition politicians in the Dublin parliament who have called for answers. They have been led by independent Catherine Murphy TD whose requests under the Freedom of Information Act yielded the documents which sparked the controversy.
Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach Enda Kenny has responded in an erratic fashion, firstly claiming complete ignorance about the scandal and later suggesting the matter be resolved through an inquiry by the state auditor’s office, something which is impossible as the law stands. But the greatest outcry came when he ordered that sales of assets by IBRC be reviewed by the same firm of financial advisors, KPMG, which previously handled such sales.
Other than Siteserv, there have also been concerns over the sale of other assets held by the fraudulent Anglo-Irish Bank before it collapsed in 2008, such as the high-profile Apthorp residential block in New York. There are other issues connected to Topaz, the fuel group that is now also controlled by Denis O’Brien.
It emerged during the week in heavily censored documents that officials at the Department of Finance had long expressed concerns over potential wrong-doing by the IBRC, which was then headed by former Fine Gael leader Alan Dukes.
IBRC refused to appoint the Department of Finance’s most senior civil servant to the board, with chairman Alan Dukes claiming it would not be “appropriate”. He said it would not be a good idea “because he would be seriously conflicted”.
Speaking at a press conference, Mr Dukes said it was “scandalous” that the review would look for any evidence of criminality or malpractice. “I am extremely angry about that. Any mention of criminality is outrageous,” Mr Dukes said.
Opposition leaders have said the Minister for Finance’s announcement of a review into IBRC transactions falls far short of what is required.
Ms Murphy said she would not accept the inquiry by KPMG, who she said “ran” the Siteserv deal. “This is not credible, it’s not independent, the citizens will not accept it,” she added. “Where are the Labour party [Fine Gael’s coalition partners] on this? How can you ask the person or the company who were involved in it to investigate it?”
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said the review “will not give us the answers we need.”
Mr Adams has said that a failure to properly investigate will mean the 26 County state had “learned nothing from the crippling recession that resulted from this tangled web of money and power.”
“Sinn Fein are calling for a full commission of inquiry to delve into the very heart of the matter,” Mr Adams said.
Mr Adams went on to call for an investigation carried out “in the full light of day by independent officials who are not tainted by association in this sordid mess.”
He also said there is an need for answers as to why “so many dissenting voices in the civil service were ignored when it came to these deals.”