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Thursday, April 14, 2016

‘Conned’: a German view of Ireland

First published in 2103 and here in 2015

Chancellor Merkel has “contempt” for Ireland’s bankers. But they are just one part of an elite that exploits the island shamelessly.
Anyone who wants to understand why Ireland could be so rich yet will probably remain poor should learn about Ray Burke. In Ireland, Ray Burke is almost as well known as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett or the U2 singer Bono who, in his sunglasses, always looks like a pudgy fly. People in Ireland don’t have positive thoughts about Ray Burke. After all, he sold their future.
Ireland has been trapped in a never-ending crisis since its gigantic property bubble burst. The banks, above all Anglo Irish Bank, worked ceaselessly to pump fresh money into the already overheated property market – which finally collapsed with the outbreak of the financial crisis of 2008.

The ruined Anglo Irish Bank has just made headlines posthumously after the Irish Independent published transcripts of telephone calls from September 2008. On the tapes you can hear how high-ranking bankers make fun of the crisis. The €7 billion emergency assistance that they demanded from the government would be paid back when they have the money, the bankers agree jokingly – “in other words: never”. That money won’t be enough anyway, says one department head, as he pulled the €7 billion figure “out of my arse”.
The journalist and author Fintan O’Toole says: “The reaction here in Dublin is very interesting. Hearing directly [the bankers’]boundless contempt is shocking. And everyone knows: we are paying for what they left behind.”

In a now legendary all-night sitting on September 29th, 2008 the Irish government agreed to guarantee all bank debts. O’Toole calls this the “most disastrous decision that was ever made by an Irish government”. At least two generations of taxpayers will pay off these debts. O’Toole makes an excellent job of charting the Irish path to disaster in his book Ship of Fools, in which he calls the accounts of Anglo Irish Bank the “most inventive work of Irish fiction since Ulysses”.

The oil off the Irish coast could be the way out of this misery. The oil could be the hope. If the former energy minister Ray Burke hadn’t rewritten the relevant laws as though the oil industry itself held the pen. And if Bertie Ahern hadn’t made an already bad deal for the Irish people even worse.

Burke was energy minister in 1987, when it was decided to change the provisions for oil and grass drilling licence allocation. Until then the state owned 50 per cent of all oil and gas found in Irish waters. In addition, companies had to pay royalties of between 8 and 16 per cent as well as 50 per cent tax. (1, see notes below)

The new rule gave companies 100 per cent of their find and abolished licence fees. In 1992 Bertie Ahern, then finance minister and later prime minister from 1998 to 2008, cut the tax for oil companies to 25 per cent – a provision that remains to this day. (2)
Increasing numbers of Irish people no longer accept this. For instance, the fisherman Joey Murtagh. Standing on the edge of Dublin Bay, with a glorious view over the Irish Sea, he asks: “You know what Ray Burke did?”

Or the psychologist Aisling Murphy. She sits in Dalkey in a pub called The Queen’s, where chicken and tacos are today’s special. Murphy asks: “You know what Ray Burke brought on us?”

The financial adviser Eddie Hobbs has arranged to meet at the motorway restaurant Brown’s Barn, 15km south of Dublin. He asks: “You’re aware of Ray Burke?”
Burke was always surrounded by corruption allegations and went to prison in 2005 because of tax fraud.

The reason this political inheritance is causing such animated discussion now is because of huge oil and gas reserves believed to surround the island. The company Providence estimates the volume of oil it discovered in the Barryroe field, south of Cork, at over 1.7 billion barrels, of which at least 270 million can be pumped. Further test drillings in Irish waters have been similarly promising.

At the moment a barrel of oil costs, depending on grade, between $90 and $100, meaning there could be oil worth many billions of euro in the Irish sea bed. (3) Even the oil companies concede that Ireland is surrounded by massive riches. But the Irish will probably gain none of this thanks to men like Ray Burke and Bertie Ahern.

Screwed over again
Murtagh says: “We are being screwed over again with every trick in the book.” Murphy: “We are a land that lies still while we are bled dry.” Hobbs: “The oil companies won’t succeed on this front. Not this time.” O’Toole: “Under the current conditions, it would be better if the resources stayed in the ground.”
But they aren’t staying there.
In April the American oil giant ExxonMobil began test drillings in the Dunquin Field southwest of Ireland. Off the west coast, Shell is extracting gas from the Corrib field, a source of often violent confrontations with residents for many years.

Two weeks ago the current energy minister Pat Rabbit urged representatives of 70 companies to invest in gas and oil extraction in Ireland. He said: “It is a priority of the Government to encourage investment in oil and gas extraction off the Irish coast and to optimise the value of the discoveries for Ireland.”

Only the Government isn’t making much progress with the optimisation. In May 2012 an Oireachtas committee appointed by Minister Rabbitte presented a report. After examining the rules introduced by Burke and Ahern, they came to the conclusion that it would be better to leave everything as it is.

Oil companies could scarcely find better terms than in Ireland. In most oil- and gas-producing countries in the world the state taps on average 70 per cent of the profits. In Ireland there is just the 25 per cent tax, though this can rise to 40 per cent on particularly rich fields. But Irish rules allow companies to write off all costs for test drillings over 25 years, regardless of where they were carried out, meaning the Irish State ends up with considerably less than 25 per cent.

Opposition is building through Hobbs’s “Own Our Oil” campaign. It is preparing a report looking into how Ireland could profit from its resources, prepared by experts from Ireland and other oil-producing countries.

He points to Norway, where most of the profits from oil production go to the company Statoil– the majority of which is owned by the state. In this way Norway has become one of the richest countries on Earth. The study is to be presented at a major conference and then handed over to government.

“We’re making good headway,” says Hobbs, “and may be finished this year.”
Hobbs is well-known in Ireland thanks to his 2005 television programme Rip-Off Republic. He is viewed as a consumer champion and is known for his populist, biting attacks on the establishment. He became an enemy of the oil industry after the company Providence made a tactical error.

Last September Providence managed to acquire a licence for test drillings in Dublin Bay. How this was possible is puzzling as the bay is a natural conservation area. The platform was to have stood 10km from the coast and would have been visible from land. The residents of Dalkey were the first to mobilise against the plans. Dalkey is a well-heeled suburb of Dublin in which many celebrities and intellectuals live, resulting in the protest being mocked in many newspapers as a revolt of the rich.

But the well-organised protesters also got a hearing and Hobbs took note. He says: “These people were the first to open my eyes to what happens to the oil.” Murphy and Murtagh are some of these people.

Murtagh says: “We became engaged because this was to take place before our eyes. But then it became bigger.” Murtagh has gone to sea since 1972 and has first-hand experience of how Ireland sold its other big resource: fish. Irish fishing waters are regarded as the best in Europe.
On EU entry in 1973 the Irish negotiated a deal that appeared good, but only at first glance: allowing other EU states into their waters to fish in exchange for money for Irish farmers. Murtagh says: “14.2 per cent of European seas are Irish. But we are allowed have only 2.6 per cent of the fish.”

Murtagh’s thesis: Ireland has paid back twice in fish every euro of EU aid received. The Dutch, Spanish, French come with industrial ships and empty Irish waters while EU fisheries policy keeps him ashore. As he talks Murtagh, 57, has tears in his eyes. (4)
Murphy says that the protest in Dublin Bay has triggered something among her friends.
“You have to know that we Irish have no experience in confrontation. Here it’s usual not to make a fuss. On top of that is something that, in psychological terms, you call ‘acquired helplessness’. You find this, for example, among abused women. Ireland doesn’t defend itself. Ireland quietly puts up with it.”

But a new fighting spirit is palpable since the group in Dalkey formed, Murphy says.
“This is completely new, even for me,” she says. “I was raised that institutions are always right and that you don’t raise any objection.”

Great diplomats, terrible politicians
Hobbs says the Irish always tried to find a third way. “You never have good and evil here, right or wrong. What you always have is people who are somewhat good or a little bit right. Above all, we are good at compromise out of fear of insulting the other. That’s why we have produced great diplomats and terrible politicians.”

It’s the same in the oil affair: “The position is, don’t start a row with the oil industry. They should find something and then we’ll find a solution. But there are Irish people who know that now is the time to do something. The only question is: will it be done the easy way or the hard way?”

The fighting spirit of the group from Dalkey was given a lift when their protest had an effect. Last February Providence handed back the licence to drill in Dublin Bay. The official reason was that, though they met all environmental requirements, the Government made a mistake in implementing an EU directive on environmental protection. The unofficial speculation in Dalkey is that the firm was weary of the negative publicity.

After the oil finds off Cork in 2012, Providence, in particular its boss Tony O’Reilly jr, was more than happy to be in the public eye. He promised that all of Ireland would profit. But with growing numbers of Irish people asking why the country profits so little from the resources, it has become increasingly difficult to contact Providence.

Emails from the Süddeutsche Zeitung from last November were answered with a question. Who else apart from Providence was the newspaper talking to, a spokeswoman asked, while keeping alive the hope of a meeting. Then no emails were answered for some time after they apparently landed in the spam folder. In February, a request for a meeting was declined as all managers were on the road, but the company would send materials. That never happened. A series of questions posed this week went unanswered.

That may have something to do with the fact that Providence boss O’Reilly jr is not used to critical questions. His father Tony O’Reilly is one of Ireland’s richest men and his company, Independent News & Media, owns more than 130 radio stations, 100 commercial websites and more than 200 newspapers worldwide – including more than 20 in Ireland. 

O’Reilly jr prefers to speak in safe surroundings. A week ago he told the oil industry website Rigzone that Ireland’s tax regulations were “appropriate for the current state of the industry”. Ireland doesn’t have enough money to search for oil itself and thus, O’Reilly said, needs investors from abroad – and attracts them with low tax rates.

In fact, Ireland has had good experience with low tax rates: a section of the Irish economy booms because of large international companies like Microsoft and Google, which have settled in Ireland because of the low corporate tax rate of 12.5 per cent. This sector is what the Irish Government points to when it says things are improving.

But since 2008, Ireland’s domestic market has been in the cellar, with dramatic consequences. More than 300,000 Irish people have emigrated in the last four years, 40 per cent aged between 18 and 24. That would be the equivalent of 5.4 million people leaving Germany (population 82 million). The State has to make savings, meaning ever less money is available for education, which means there won’t be enough trained staff for international companies – the only economic sector that is working.

“In countries like Greece or Spain the youth go on the street and protest,” says O’Toole. “In Ireland, they emigrate. Now our young people are also leaving because they don’t want to pay back the debts of our bankers.”

The publication of the Anglo Irish Bank telephone calls has revived the outrage. In one extract a banker says: “The strategy is to pull [the government] in, so that they write a big cheque. If they realise the scale of this from the start, they might say it is too expensive for the taxpayer.”

It demonstrated to the Irish public like never before how they were conned ruthlessly by a shameless elite. Even Chancellor Merkel commented on the case. On Thursday evening she said: “I have nothing but contempt for that.”
O’Toole says: “The interesting question now is whether the fury will focus. Whether the people perhaps choose the issue of oil to say: that’s enough. If even Third World dictators can agree better deals with oil companies, why can’t we?” 

He answers his own question: “The Government always views itself in a weak position. All important financial decisions are being taken by the troika of the European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund. The Government merely implements. That leads to a situation where they are psychologically incapable of acting independently.”

The fisherman Joey Murtagh, the psychologist Aisling Murphy, the financial adviser Eddie Hobbs and the author Fintan O’Toole want to make sure that, on this matter, the last word has not been spoken. That the Irish people no longer have to pay for institutional stupidity and greed.

“It is completely un-Irish what we’re doing here,” said Murphy, “but perhaps we are the start of something new.”
She laughs very cautiously when she says: “Seen that way, perhaps we’re a kind of avant garde.”
By Christian Zaschke 
– (Copyright: Süddeutsche Zeitung.) 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Mayo conman branded himself for life

The swindles grew more audacious as he crossed continents, €70 million passing through Kevin McGeever’s nuanced hands as he seduced investors in Australia,the United States, Europe, and the United Arab Emirates. 

Along the way, there was a fake bank in Liechtenstein, a fake Austrian one in Feldkirch, a fake paradise in  Dubai, and a fake kidnapping or two.
Some things, of course, were all too real.
On January 29th, 2013, a dishevelled man shuffled from a remote Irish roadside into the lights of an oncoming car. Through sleet rain, electrified on a black night, Catherine Vallely suddenly saw a red glow, and for a moment mistook McGeever’s red trousers, his gaunt face and his billowing white beard for a traffic bollard, blurred in the lights.
People, all over the world, frequently mistook Kevin McGeever for something he was not.

In the course of making We Need To Talk About Kevin, an RTÉ  One television documentary, I spent the past three years tracing the intricate sidesteps of McGeever. In a 30-year career, conning his way across four continents, the Mayo man has claimed to be many things: a developer, a roofing contractor, a Harvard-educated doctor of arbitration, a psychologist, a bestselling author, and president of the fictional World Trust Bank in Liechtenstein, where he purported to deal exclusively in $100 million trades.

I discovered a pattern of deception that began in 1973, when, aged 29, he abandoned his first convertible Jaguar sports car at Dublin Airport and, overnight, left behind astonished friends and a small, unfinished housing development that he had been building in Naas, Kildare.
The trend continued through the 1980s in Australia, where he abandoned his De Tomaso sports car at Sydney Airport in 1985, leaving behind his wife, Valmai, their two young daughters, Renee and Shanelle, and the four-bedroom luxury waterfront home, complete with swimming pool, they shared in the southern suburb of Kareela. He also left behind at least five investors who had each been conned into buying the same roofing business.

Fake bank scam
In 2000, with the FBI on his trail over an $8 million fake bank scam, McGeever abandoned leased sports cars and the home he shared with his second wife, Jeany Nicole Chhay, in Lawerenceville, Georgia, and came to Ireland to reinvent himself as a Celtic Tiger property developer. Ms Chhay eventually secured a divorce 10 years later, after court papers stated that McGeever could not be traced.

In the meantime, McGeever had taken millions from more than 60 Irish investors who thought they were buying dream homes in Dubai. Instead, McGeever double-sold properties; sold other apartments which were entirely fictitious; and used investors’ money to buy commercial property in Dubai for himself. He then sold the same commercial floors to multiple buyers in a scam that involved 48 transactions with buyers from Ireland, Russia and China. Some got their money back; many did not. At least €70 million passed through McGeever’s hands, much of it unaccounted for. He spent €4.5 million buying and refurbishing a mansion in Craughwell, which he named Nirvana.

While making We Need To Talk About Kevin, we encountered as many characters as countries in McGeever’s convoluted and captivating story. But in the end, even after interviewing victims in Australia, in Palm Beach, in Dubai, and in Ireland, one essential question remained. Yes, Kevin McGeever had been lying, cheating and conning people for 30 years. But this time, was he the victim? Was he really kidnapped by disgruntled investors in his Dubai scam, or was McGeever the man who kidnapped himself?

Catherine Vallely occasionally picked up hitchhikers from the hippie camp and the Buddhist centre dotted along an old smuggling route linking Swanlinber (200 yards from the Border with Northern Ireland) to Ballinamore, 19 kilometres south in Co Leitrim. Vallely, a former Sinn Féin local election candidate, was returning from a Tuesday-night writing class with her friend, Peter Reihill, when she spotted what she thought was a bollard on the road ahead. The moment they stopped, shortly after 10pm, for a frail, sodden, yet unfailingly polite, 68-year-old stranger, a bizarre plotline began to unfold before the aspiring writers’ eyes.

Dripping socks stepped into the back seat and McGeever’s eyes, huge like a hungry child’s, looked out. Wrapped in some kind of plastic sheeting, he was holding a new flashlight and a mobile phone containing just one preregistered number in the contacts list.
His body still shaking with the cold, he spoke in a rasped voice of how he had been kidnapped, and starved for eight months in a secret underground container. He said he had been dumped in the area by three men in a van, but said he didn’t know where he was or what day it was.

He looked the part. Weighing about eight stone (51kg/112lb), he had “thief” – misspelt “tief” – written in indelible ink on his forehead. His discoloured fingernails were more than an inch long.
“He had a pair of enormous eyes in a very thin face. He was rubbing his beard with fingers that had long nails. The beard was coming away in his hands. He was well-educated, well-spoken and polite,” Vallely said.
For 30 years, McGeever had taken a feline pride in his appearance. His expensive Baroni suits, tanned skin, sunglasses, jewellery and Church’s leather shoes spoke as much for his inner narcissism as the pulled and pinched plastic surgery lines either side of his eyes.
Every scam and con he’d pulled – from selling the same business five times in Sydney in 1985 to convincing investors worldwide in 1998 to lodge $8 million into his fake bank in Liechtenstein – was always predicated on his charismatic, constructed persona of wealth and success. Yet here he was now, starved and gaunt, shoeless and grey. If this was all just another con, it was being perpetrated in a way that was entirely out of character.

Vallely didn’t know that the man in her back seat was wanted by the FBI and Interpol, or that he had recently spent time in prison in Dubai and  Germany. She did find it odd, however, that he didn’t seem to smell; at least, not badly, for a man held underground for the past eight months.

McGeever asked Vallely to ring directory inquiries and get a number for a friend. That didn’t work, so he called the single preregistered number on the phone, supposedly given to him by his kidnappers. His friend, John McNevin, answered. Shortly before his alleged kidnapping, McGeever had left his Porche and other luxury cars with McNevin for safekeeping.

Car park
Vallely arranged to bring McGeever to McNevin at a Tesco car park in Carrick-on Shannon, 27 kilometres southwest of Ballinamore. However, as they passed through Ballinamore, Peter Reihill, who was driving, decided against the detour and parked outside the Garda station instead. It wasn’t what McGeever was expecting, but he appeared calm as a female Garda checked out his story. Vallely noted how he retained a dignity, even as he devoured biscuits and warm tea, and then the curry chips he’d ordered from a nearby takeaway.
McGeever’s kidnapping claims initially rang true. Gardaí in Gort, Galway, confirmed they were investigating his disappearance. McGeever was taken to Mullingar general hospital, where doctors noted some muscle wastage and minor injuries but were relieved not to find the eyesight issues they had expected in someone who had been kept in the dark for eight months.

It wasn’t until days later that Vallely discovered that Kevin Michael McGeever was a multimillionaire with his own fleet of 13 luxury cars, with personalised licence plates, such as the MR KMM which adorned his Hummer and the SL55 AMG on his Mercedes. She was startled to see photographs of a 14-stone McGeever standing before a helicopter liveried with KMM, which was both his property company’s name and his initials.

Like all of McGeever’s stories, there was some truth in there somewhere. He did own some luxury cars, but most were leased, just like the helicopter. He had hired it, just as he had hired a photographer to come and capture him standing in front of it, all decked out in KMM livery just for the day. McGeever pulled stunts liked this all the time.

His biggest con was establishing a fake bank in Liechtenstein, using a PO box in Salem, Massachusetts, a shell company registered in the British Virgin Island, and a phoney lawyer named James Sexton. The scam duped lawyers and investors across the US and in Mexico, Canada, the UK, and Ireland.

Together, they invested $8.8 million in McGeever’s fake bank. More than $2 million disappeared before investors managed to freeze the accounts. The FBI established that McGeever had bought himself a $67,000 Mercedes and an $18,000 church organ from the proceeds, and traced the rest to accounts set up by the fake lawyer, James Sexton, in Panama and Belize. Sexton initially claimed he had handed over the $2 million to an Austrian named Kurt Schemed in Feldkirch. Mr Schmied was, like so much in McGeever’s life, a fiction.
Sexton eventually died in prison, while another accomplice, Doug Johnson, entered a plea and agreed to give evidence against the fugitive McGeever. An FBI arrest warrant remains active for McGeever. The FBI confirmed to RTÉ that he would be arrested should he return to the US.

Luxurious lifestyle
McGeever’s various cons had allowed an uneducated man to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle, driving a Lamborghini Murciélago, a Ferrari 360, a Porsche GT2 and even, at one point, a Formula One car he claimed to have bought from Eddie Jordan. (In fact, it was repossessed by a friend of Jordan’s. McGeever never paid for it, but did try to get Jordan to become a business partner in a fictional attempt to buy the London soccer club Queen’s Park Rangers.)

After a six-month investigation into his kidnapping, McGeever was charged with wasting Garda time. He was also charged with knowingly making false reports and statements to gardaí on various dates in 2013, relating to allegations of false imprisonment, assault and threats to harm.
If his kidnapping claim was just another con, it meant McGeever had permanently defaced himself. The ink is still visible on his forehead, even beneath the layers of cosmetic concealer he applies daily.

It appears that the overriding aspect of McGeever’s character is his vanity. Could someone so vain, and so at ease with fleeing countries, really have done that to himself?
On Tuesday, we found out the truth. He wouldn’t give an interview on camera over the past three years, but we met and spoke at length on several occasions and had numerous hour-long phone calls, during which he appeared to suffer from wild mood swings, his initial aggression giving way to tears and an insidious charm which left you liking him immensely, despite all the lies and broken promises.
He would promise wholeheartedly to produce documents which would clear his name, or to set up interviews with people who could prove his claims, but always, he would do a U-turn, or deny making such promises in the first place.

Tattoo removal
He told me he had had 14 sessions with a tattoo removal specialist to burn the skin and fade the word “tief” permanently inscribed on his forehead.
“I was buried alive for eight months and a day. I was starved and beaten. Do you really think I’d do that to myself, write that word on my forehead forever?” he asked me.
He promised to allow me to film and interview him as he underwent the treatment to remove the word “tief”, yet, as with all the other commitments, this never came to pass.
Could a man so irrevocably narcissistic truly have done that to himself? Could he have starved himself, lost more than four stone, hidden himself away from everyone, including his dying partner, Siobhán O’Callaghan? And if so, why?

On Tuesday at Galway Circuit Criminal Court, McGeever pleaded guilty to wasting Garda time, and faced with a maximum sentence of five years, he was sentenced to two years in prison, with the sentence suspended for five years.

Gardaí suspected from an early stage that McGeever was lying about his abduction. He allegedly that he was abducted on May 27th, 2012, by three masked men at his Galway mansion, Nirvana. Yet O’Callaghan didn’t report him missing until the end of June, and gardaí were asked not to make a public appeal. Three texts were sent from McGeever’s phone while he was supposedly kidnapped. The texts, telling O’Callaghan not to worry, were sent from Germany and Northern Ireland. Then house-to-house inquiries in Clontarf, where McGeever’s partner owned an apartment, unearthed a neighbour who claimed to have seen McGeever in June 2012, more than a week after he was supposedly kidnapped.

The court heard that he was being pursued by Irish investors who had lost millions buying properties in Dubai. Kevin Cook, a hard-nosed multimillionaire businessman, handed over €800,000 for seven apartments in Dubai. As with scores of other Irish clients, Cooke made multiple payments. McGeever would personally call to Mr Cooke’s home, in Carragh, Kildare, befriending him as he collected the stage payment cheques.
And just as he had done in the Liechtenstein scam, where McGeever sent fake bank statements to victims, the Mayo man appeased his Irish investors in Dubai with fake construction shots, showing completed bathrooms in the apartments and everything seemingly on schedule. The reality was that many of the apartments didn’t exist in Dubai, others were double-sold to multiple clients, and others were sold without McGeever actually owning them.

Bizarre claims
As if McGeever’s kidnap claims weren’t bizarre enough, there was to be another twist. Kevin Cooke was himself kidnapped by two masked men, who brought him to see McGeever in captivity, where Cooke was told that the kidnappers wanted $10 million for McGeever’s release. Gardaí believed Cooke was brought there to reinforce McGeever’s claim that he had been kidnapped and to get the message to other disgruntled investors that he had no money, even to pay for his own release.

Det John Keating told the court that McGeever eventually admitted in the last of four interviews with detectives that he had concocted the abduction.
“Over the course of the investigation he made eight statements alleging kidnap, assault, and ill-treatment,” he said. “A six-week investigation commenced, and certain anomalies appeared in his story. We arrested him on March 28th, 2013. He was interviewed on four occasions, and stuck to his stance for the first three, that he was kidnapped and assaulted in Craughwell, and held in a steel container for eight months, about 20 feet underground, with no lighting, heating or sanitation.”

On the fourth interview, McGeever admitted he had made it all up. In a recorded statement to gardaí, he said: “I am very relieved to have gotten this off my chest. I wish to offer my sincere thanks to the gardaí for their work. I’m very sorry that I have wasted Garda time.”

The Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) has been investigating McGeever for several years, and four High Court judgments have been secured against McGeever, with his Galway mansion the sole available asset for recovery. The CAB believes he has money overseas, possibly in Belize, Panama, Queensland and the Canary Islands.

I spoke to one investor who managed to get money from McGeever – two cheques totalling €9 million, both of which cleared. At one point, McGeever was a multimillionaire and at least €70 million went through his hands. Whether any of it is left, or can be recovered by duped investors, remains to be seen.

By Brian Carroll

We Need To Talk About Kevin will be broadcast on RTÉ One later this month

Change comes dropping so slowly you might not have noticed it

 "What is coming may not be better but it will be irrevocably different"

It’s a consequence which will arrive soon if it’s coming at all. Ultimately the significance of the hiatus over forming a government, will be about how government is done. Expectations of ‘new politics’ now, as for a ‘democratic revolution’ before, will be overdone and disappointed. Whatever its form, it will overwhelmingly resemble what went before, except there will be a great deal of gyration, day-to-day, issue-to-issue. That, however, will be froth. The bigger issue is whether, in terms of governance, much will change. I think a little can.

The obsession with outward form — the horse trading — obscures already accomplished changes in function. Simply put, politics was already changing incrementally even during the apparently immutable tenure of the former two-and-a-half-party system, now disappeared. Electoral results are a symptom of that, not their cause per se, though they do give momentum. The continuing change in function is evidenced by the social transformation of a conservative, hierarchical society over 40 years, within essentially the same structures.
In terms of political form not a lot changed until 2011, between the banning of John McGahern’s novel The Dark in 1965 and the arrival of same-sex marriage 50 years later. A fundamentally different society had arrived none the less.

What prompted social change and an increased questioning of authority is complex. Certainly education and technology are powerful forces. Radio and television first, and an explosion in the automation of society caused by the IT revolution flattens hierarchy. With everyone a desktop publisher, enabled to speak globally in an instant, what need now of politics or pulpit? That power is turned sour, however, because noise is the new silence. Everyone is screaming but nobody is listening. The ultimate torment to the ego is the moment when, finally enabled, you are ultimately ignored.

The shenanigans yesterday at the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors annual conference underline that. The popular appeal of insurgency has spread to the extent where, well-paid and extraordinarily well-pensioned senior gardaí would prefer to populate the prison cells themselves than police others into them. If only the great McGahern, the son of a Garda sergeant, were still with us. There is a novel in it.

When the modus operandi of gardaí, paid from public taxes and enabled by swathes of legal powers and privilege, blend effortlessly with those they are to police, we have a sense of the change that has arrived.

It is this society that negotiations for the formation of a government belatedly, but only partially, reflect. The slow fracturing of political support, over decades, became more fundamental in 2011 — and 2016 reflects ever quickening, fundamental alteration. Harrumphing by political beasts after the general election — from within the remaining primordial forest, resembling hardly a clump of bushes in its diminished grandeur — for a grand coalition to shore-up the status quo underlines both how far we have come and the farce of imagining we are ever going back. What is coming may not be better but it will be irrevocably different.

Over decades practically every great citadel of Irish authority has been besieged, assaulted, breached.
Clergy and politicians have had to significantly change how they manage their internal affairs and relate to the community at large. The prospect of a minority government, genuinely responsible to the Dáil and dependent on it, represents less a challenge to politics which is famously flexible, as to the larger, often more powerful reality of the permanent state behind it. If changes in how government is done in the 32nd Dáil last long enough to stick, regardless of how incremental they are, this may be its best lasting legacy.

The reality of government is that the 15 at the cabinet table are as much in the chorus as leading actors. Partly this is because the scale of modern government is so complex it is beyond the capacity of any minister, however talented to actually manage their department. It is also a consequence of an unresolved dysfunction of our political system where the skills required to get elected do not coincide with those required to lead complex organisations. Most fundamentally those charged with the actual management and detailed accounting are burdened with almost none of the real responsibility.

If any sliver of ‘new politics’ arrives, its challenge will be felt within the comfort zone of the senior civil and public service. A state has only two functions — to declare war and raise taxes. Keeping the peace, protecting the people in an Irish context, is why An Garda Síochána was established. Raising taxes is how we pay for that service and others we require.
It is the job of politicians to make policy decisions on what is important. Often they fail to do so well or coherently. But, once made, policy decisions must be delegated for implementation. It is at exactly this juncture — the high-level handover between policy and administration — that failures happen most often, most egregiously.

A more accountable government, answering to an empowered Dáil by default, if not by design, will lean more heavily on senior management, insisting it stand over its remarkably undefined realm of responsibility. In return, this will ensure an unhealthy cosiness is replaced by greater rigour.

The current dysfunction is underlined by the fact the negotiating teams of politicians can receive briefings on budgetary matters behind closed doors from the Department of Health, but neither the public nor Dáil, has formally heard anything. It is the equivalent of buying a car without an NCT.

In the officers’ mess of the senior service, in Garda barracks and in school staff rooms, there is an entrenched begrudgery and cussedness. Some is festering resentment at relative status reduction. None of those roles, in a more complex society with more opportunity, have the standalone importance they used to.

Those up the ranks know they shafted new colleagues all the better to preserve their own entitlements. Their new colleagues know it too. More fundamentally, as once clergy and politicians were, public service leaders are swivel-eyed at the dislocation of authority and accountability which they have not adjusted to.

Once CCTV was an instrument of authority, the better to watch and hold others to account. Now every gurrier with a gizmo is equipped with the equivalent. It is a metaphor for surveillance being turned on the watchmen. It is part of a profound dislocation and readjustment with which, this week, we see senior gardaí and politicians grappling, the latter much more adeptly.
The election result reflects the diffusion of society. It is a reality, unreformed public services, occluded behind the shelter break of politics, must adjust to within the scope of taxes it is prudent for the state to raise.

Perhaps a cooling-off period in the cells would be no bad thing.
Gerard Howlin

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Panama Papers: The Kerryman with the drive to expose scandal worldwide

In the wake of the Panama Papers leak, Ryle Dwyer looks at the Irish connection in the form of Gerard Ryle, the Kerry-born journalist with the drive to expose scandal worldwide

International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) director Gerard Ryle speaks from his office in Washington, DC,. Picture: Jim Watson/Getty

THE leaking of the files of Mossack Fonseca, the Panama-based law firm that specialises in creating offshore companies, became a global sensation.
Those files revealed details of the offshore holding of 140 politicians and public officials worldwide.
Associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin secretly passed as much as $2bn through banks and shadow companies. The families of other prominent officials were also exposed, including Prime Ministers David Cameron of Britain, Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, and Iceland’s Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, who stepped down amid the fall-out last week. This story is liable to run for some time because of its wide-ranging implications.

Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson

Economists estimate that funds invested offshore cost governments around $200 billion annually, with the US losing some $35bn and Europe $78bn.
Of course, all the people investing in offshore enterprises are not acting illegally, but many people have been using offshore facilities to evade tax.

The 11 million documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca’s reveal the company’s clients included individuals and companies blacklisted by the US because of links to drug trafficking and terrorism. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) broke the story.
The ICIJ was set up in 1997 by the Centre for Public Integrity, a journalistic initiative to deal with cross-border corruption by exposing those responsible who are in positions of power and influence.

It has a strong Irish connection, in that it now headed by an Irish journalist, Gerard Ryle, who was appointed Director of the ICIJ in 2011 after he got hold of 2.5 million secret files in relation to the tax havens in the Virgin Islands. He then broke a similar story based on those files.
Mr Ryle had been no stranger to international headlines since he emigrated to Australia from his home near Tralee, County Kerry, in 1988. He had trained as a journalist with the Irish Press and was quickly in the headlines with award-winning stories about the seizure of Aboriginal children.

Between 1917 and 1970, some 100,000 Aborigine children were taken away from their parents in a supposed attempt to assimilate them into Anglo-Australian society. The story read like a precursor of Nazi experiments, but it continued afterwards. Over 20,000 of those children were “taken into care” between 1951 and 1968.
Their parents were discouraged from trying to contact the children, who were often told that their parents were dead. Whole aboriginal families and communities were destroyed in this depraved social experiment.

Seizing the children was bad enough, but Mr Ryle and a colleague in The Age, the Melbourne newspaper, broke the story that church and state authorities running the orphanages with those children actually allowed drug companies to use some of them as human guinea pigs as late as 1970. For instance, 51 babies between 7 and 10 months-old were used in a search for a vaccine against the cold sore, Herpes Simplex.
All of those children vaccinated in one experiment caught herpes. In another experiment 69 infants in a Melbourne orphanage were injected in an attempt to find a whopping-cough vaccine.

Under the glare of these reports, Prime Minister John Howard issued an apology of sorts, but it was so begrudging that it only fueled further controversy. It was not the last time that Mr Ryle’s journalism was to land Howard in the proverbial soup.

The reporter caused of a further sensation during the 1990s with his accounts of police corruption in the state of Victoria. A Special Operations Group was formed in 1977 with state crime squads to investigate drug trafficking, major frauds, and other criminal activities. These led to a wave of noble cause corruption in which officers believed that good outcomes justified bad behaviour. Police engaged in a “code of silence” to protect the misconduct of each other.
Before long, however, many were involved in corruption for their own gain. The Age newspaper accused hundreds of police officers of taking kickbacks from window shutter companies.
When police were called to a business premises where a window or a door had been broken, they would call a shutter service to complete a temporary repair, if the owner was not on hand. Temporary repairs would be made at the expense of the owner, who would usually rely on the same company to complete the permanent repairs.

This practice began in 1978, and the shutter companies began paying kickbacks to police for calling on them. The police were paid about $300 for a plate glass window and $150 for a glass door. There were strong suspicions in some instances, that it was the police who did the damage in the first place.

In 1996 the media director of the police publicly accused Mr Ryle of being “anti-police” and announced that the force would not facilitate his inquiries.
“We don’t have any confidence in what we tell you being reported in a fashion that is anything other than anti-police, so I am really not prepared to assist you,” he openly told the reporter.
The Age newspaper backed its reporters, and the police initiated a high level inquiry, which ultimately vindicated the newspaper and its star reporter.

One police officer was caught on videotape accepting payment in a sting operation. The records of a shutter company seized during the investigation found that the company had paid $144,000 to the police from April 1994 to May 1995.

The inquiry uncovered 1,819 kickbacks, involving policemen at 56 of the 89 police stations investigated. Ultimately 550 police were charged and over 100 resigned from the force while under investigation.
After ten years reporting for The Age, Gerard Ryle moved to the Sydney Morning Herald, where he went on to break the biggest financial scandal in Australian history. This involved Tim Johnston, who managed to deceive the governments of Australia, Britain, Russia, and other countries with his bogus Firepower Pill, which was a fuel additive that supposedly increased fuel efficiency and cut emissions.

On January 7, 2007, the Sydney Morning Herald published its first expose on the scam, and four defamation suits were promptly filed against the newspaper, which went on to publish over 60 further articles under Gerard Ryle as news editor. After two years, Johnston’s lawyers dropped the defamation cases, and turned on Johnston instead for failing to pay them.
Mr Ryle published a best-selling book on the scandal in May 2009. Firepower: The Most Spectacular Fraud in Australian History, detailed the massive scam that deceived a wide range of people — including Prime Ministers John Howard of Australia, Tony Blair of Britain, and President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.

In their wake were business leaders, diplomats, doctors and sporting heroes who were essentially tricked into investing money in the super pill, which was just a placebo with no beneficial effects.
Millions of shares in Firepower were sold, and the company increased its profile by becoming the biggest sporting sponsor in Australia. The company took over the Sydney Kings basketball team, the Perth rugby union team Western Force, and the South Sydney Rabbitsohs rugby league team. It was estimated that ordinary Australian investors were unwitting divested of $100 million in the scam.

Mr Ryle won four Walkley Awards, the top Australian Award for journalism before he was enticed to Washington to head ICIJ project.
Ryle Dwyer


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Photo Minute: Fight For Life

This leopard bought off more than he could chew by trying to steal and eat this baby warthog. Mother  Hog knew what to do and fought for her babies life and won!!

A Bunch Of Famous People Didn’t Clap When Jenny Beavan Won Her Oscar

Beavan took home the Costume Design award for her work on “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Jenny Beavan took home the award for Costume Design at the2016 Oscara  on Sunday night for her work on “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
Beavan was one of many women who won for their work on the film, which totally cleaned up in the technical categories. (With good reason.) But apparently, Alejandro González Iñárritu, who later won Best Director for “The Revenant,” wasn’t too impressed with the Academy’s decision. 

As Beavan walked toward the stage to accept her golden statue, a whole line of mostly male crowd members, including Iñárritu, noticeably decided not to clap for her while she passed by. Instead, they just sat in their seats looking bored and dissatisfied. Because, like, why should they clap for a woman over the age of 30 who doesn’t fit the mold of traditional Hollywood beauty, right? It’s hard to imagine these men having the same reaction if Margot Robbie, Brie Larson or Kate Winslet walked by.

Regardless, Beavan accepted her award like a total boss, paying no mind to the shade from the crowd. She showed up looking like a total badass in a bejeweled leather jacket and she used her speech to bring light to environmental issues. 

“I just want to say one quite serious thing. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, but actually it could be horribly prophetic, ‘Mad Max,‘“ she said. “If we’re not kinder to each other, and if we don’t stop polluting our atmosphere, so you know, it could happen.” 

Bravo, Jenny! 
By Julia Brucculieri