Adjournment Debate. - Collapse of Offshore Bank.

Wednesday, 1 February 1995

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 448 No. 4

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Mr. T. Kitt: Information on Tom Kitt  Zoom on Tom Kitt  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this issue and welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, to the House. Notwithstanding all the slagging he has got from this side of the House, I congratulate him on his appointment.

I raise this matter to ascertain the action being taken by the Government arising from the collapse of the offshore bank, International Investments Limited, Gibraltar, in view of the heavy financial losses incurred as a result by so many Irish investors, both from the North and the Republic. I have no doubt that the Minister and this House are aware of the background to this scandal. When International Investments Limited, which was registered in Gibraltar and run by Mr. Finbar Ross, collapsed more than ten years ago it owed £7 million. Mr. Ross fled the country, leaving more than 1,000 investors, mostly from Northern Ireland, with heavy losses. The Collapse of the bank is still being investigated by the Northern Ireland authorities. I ask the Minister to give me the up-to-date position on the investigation. I understand a lengthy file was compiled for the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland and that it has been with the Crown Counsel since November, with a decision expected soon. What co-operation has there been between the Garda and the RUC in this matter?

The collapse of the bank and its effect on many vulnerable people, some of whom were elderly, has correctly been described as the greatest unresolved scandal in recent times. This scandal [1142] was raised in the House of Commons and, as the Minister is aware, it was recently highlighted by a reporter with the Sunday World who tracked down Mr. Ross in the United States where he is living with a small religious sect in the Ozark Mountains.

When he was a member of the previous Government, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, rejected pressure to appoint a High Court inspector to investigate the scandal — he gave reasons for that decision. When in Opposition, the Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, was very sympathetic to such an approach, as was the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Rabbitte. On the basis that the Northern Ireland Director of Public Prosecutions is soon to make a decision on this matter and that the Taoiseach and Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, were concerned about this case in Opposition, I ask the Minister to say if he will now agree to initiate a high level investigation into the collapse of this offshore bank.

This unresolved case led to the bankruptcy of hundreds of small investors, some of whom are widows and many of whom had invested their life savings and pensions in the bank. As the Minister is aware, this case has united Northern politicians in their demand for action by the Government. This is a very appropriate time for politicians, North and South, to tackle the issue once and for all. I ask the Minister to give me an assurance that after so many years he will come to the assistance of the many Irish people who have suffered so much for so long as a result of this débâcle.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise and Employment (Mr. Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  I thank the Deputy for his gracious remarks; he is the first Fianna Fáil speaker to acknowledge that I attract more than my fair share of slagging from both himself and his colleagues. I also thank him for giving me the opportunity to deal with this long running issue. As he correctly said, I am only one of the Deputies in the House [1143] who have taken an interest in this matter during the years.

The company to which the Deputy refers was incorporated in Gibraltar in November 1976. I understand it once held a banking licence granted by the authorities there. In 1984 the Supreme Court of Gibraltar ordered that the company be wound up. There was an Irish dimension as it seems to have been, by all accounts — certainly to my satisfaction — under the control of an Irish national. In addition, many of those who invested in it appear to have been from Northern Ireland. The company could be regarded as having its genesis here although no definite evidence has been found to suggest that it ever was registered as carrying on business in this jurisdiction.

The genesis of the company goes back to the 1970s in the form of an industrial and provident society. This society was registered in 1975 and ceased operations around 1978 when new legislation was imminent for the better regulation and supervision of deposit taking industrial and provident societies. Certain assets and liabilities of the society were transferred to the Gibraltar based company. The then Registrar of Friendly Societies carried out a thorough investigation of this transfer of assets, even to the point of placing public advertisements in the national newspapers. These advertisements did not elicit any substantiated claims from depositors that moneys were owed to them by the society.

Allegations have been made over the years concerning irregularities in the affairs of the company. These allegations were subject to full investigation by the Garda in 1984-85 and 1988 as well as reviews on a number of occasions. I understand that a file in the case was referred to the Director of [1144] Public Prosecutions but the director signified that there should be no prosecution. I am also informed that the Garda authorities have indicated that if any new evidence is adduced in the case it will be thoroughly investigated and, if appropriate, again referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

I have certain powers under the Companies Acts relating to the appointment of inspectors to conduct investigations into the affairs of companies. The persons asserting that they are owed money by the company have such powers also, although I appreciate the related costs may be prohibitive. However, none of the representations and allegations made over the years have produced any new evidence that might further advance investigations into the affairs of the company.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, I am aware that members of all parties have in the past raised issues concerning the affairs of this company. I am extremely concerned at allegations that people from Northern Ireland and this jurisdiction have been defrauded by the company. I have therefore ordered a review of the case in my Department and this review is ongoing. It is my intention to make whatever decision is required immediately on completion of that review. I will make the Deputy aware of this as speedily as possible because I acknowledge a great deal of what he said and the fact that serious hardship was imposed on many small depositors, a great many of whom are from Northern Ireland — I have met their representatives — and some of whom are pensioners and not in a position to endure the hardship visited upon them.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.25 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 2 February 1995.

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