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Murphy calls on KPMG to remove itself from Siteserv probe

A Fianna Fáil motion calling for an independent commission to be established has been defeated by the government.

Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Updated 9.30pm

FIANNA FÁIL ACCUSED Finance Minister Michael Noonan today of trying to “kill off” interest in the Siteserv sale.

Two weeks ago, Noonan announced that KPMG would carry out a review of several Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC) transactions, including the sale of Siteserv.

The review will cover all deals that resulted in a loss of over €10 million to taxpayers.

As the officials in question – Kieran Wallace and Eamonn Richardson – are also the IBRC special liquidators, retired High Court judge Iarfhlaith O’Neill has been appointed to oversee any potential conflicts of interest.

Fianna Fáil presented motion in the Dáil during private members’ business at 6pm today calling for an independent commission of inquiry to be set up.

Government TDs voted down the motion. The counter-motion can be viewed here.

Catherine Murphy

In her speech in the Dáil this evening, Deputy Catherine Murphy called the review “conflicted” and said it is “not wide enough to provide a true picture”.

TheJournal.ie has contacted KPMG for comment.

Murphy also raised questions about Millington, the Denis O’Brien-owned business that bought Siteserv in 2012.

Murphy said that interested parties in the Siteserv sale were contacted on 11 November 2011 and asked to sign confidentially agreements. “This allowed for a due diligence period with a deadline of 5pm on December 7 set for submission of first round bids,” said Murphy.

Millington – the eventual buyer – “was not incorporated until December 7 2011″, Murphy said.

Murphy questioned how Millington was able to make a bid later in the process than all the other bids, and how it came by the information it needed to make that bid.

She also questioned how how soon after 7 December did Millington submit a bid, and if it followed the 16-point checklist required of the other bids.

During the debate, Noonan said it is expected that at least 30 transactions will fall under the scope of the review.

He said that the review is not being undertaken as a result of any evidence, but to serve the public interest.

“The Special Liquidators are best placed to undertake such a review thoroughly and expeditiously – given their access to all books and records of IBRC, the resources at their disposal to conduct such a review and the power set out under the IBRC Act which allows me to make this direction in the public interest,” Noonan said.

The review is expected to be completed by 31 August 2015.

Noonan said the department was not briefed on the Siteserv deal, and didn’t know there was a board meeting on 15 March 2012, when the sale was agreed by shareholders.

“On 16 March 2012, given that Siteserv was a member of the Enterprise Securities Market, the proposed disposal of the Siteserv business to Millington was announced to the Stock Exchange. As per the RNS on the Irish Stock Exchange, completion of the sale was subject to and conditional upon a number of conditions including receipt of approval of the transaction from the Irish Competition Authority. After this announcement to the stock exchange there would have been media attention around the transaction,” Noonan stated.

Following a thorough search of emails and documents held by the Department of Finance and discussions with the Department officials involved, I am informed that the first record relating to the sale of Siteserv is dated 23 March 2012. This was an email from a member of the public relating to media reports around the sale of Siteserv.

“Under the relationship framework that was in place prior to the 29th of March 2012, the board of IBRC were not required to consult with the Minister for Finance on transactions such as the sale of Siteserv and they did not do so.”

‘Shortcut to kill this story off’

Speaking ahead of the debate earlier today, Fianna Fáil”s public expenditure spokesperson Seán Fleming said:

[Noonan] wants a shortcut to kill this story off, but I don’t think that will work. And I think people would prefer to see the full truth emerging through an independent process.

“We firmly believe that that Michael Noonan’s decision to direct the same firm involved in the Siteserv deal to now review that very deal, along with other major transactions at IBRC, poses a glaring conflict of interest.”

Fleming said he was not making “an allegation of wrongdoing” but said the issues Noonan had with IBRC need to be probed.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions. As the weeks go by, it just gets worse and worse,” he added.

The issue came into the public consciousness last month after Freedom of Information (FOI) documents released to Murphy and a number of journalists showed officials at the Department of Finance, including Noonan, were concerned about the Siteserv deal and several other large IBRC transactions.

Siteserv was sold to the Denis O’Brien-owned Millington by IBRC (formerly Anglo Irish Bank) in 2012 for €45 million. IBRC had given the company a loan of €150 million, meaning the bank wrote off €105 million and the State got back less than €50 million.
At the same time, shareholders were paid €5 million.

Last week Tánaiste Joan Burton told reporters: “Following my discussion with the attorney general, I’m very happy that a judge has been appointed to overview the work that’s going to be done by the liquidators.”

Burton said the review is a better option than a tribunal, as it will be completed by the end of August.

“We don’t want to move back to ten-year tribunals which cost the country a huge amount of money and, very often, people have forgotten what they were about by the time they report,” Burton added.

In the Dáil this evening, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin said:

At the end of the day what we are discussing here is a distressed asset.  Nobody is suggesting that the board of IBRC could have recovered anything approaching full value from Siteserv as a company either as a going concern or by way of disposal. Furthermore, we will never know the outcome around alternative courses of action that might have been pursued. The Department of Finance material released under FOI is clear on this point.  Indeed, this particular issue is thankfully notable in so far as there is no serious charge being made of improper conduct around any individual or body.

- Additional reporting Aoife Barry

We tried to find out who Siteserv’s shareholders are … it didn’t go to plan

Noonan announces review into Siteserv deal as more FOI documents emerge

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Órla Ryan

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