Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Failed research firm probe turns microscope on £100k legal fee

Investigators probing a failed research company that cost taxpayers over £2 million have been tracing the use of a £100,000 sum paid out to a law firm.

And the findings are certain to form part of a forthcoming Assembly investigation into the Bioscience and Technology Institute (BTI).

As this newspaper revealed last week, Government officials expect to write off the full £2.2m of public money supplied to BTI.

A now-completed company inspection process has examined certain payments made during the Institute's brief history.

These included a £100,000 “finder's fee” paid to a solicitors’ firm in relation to the acquisition of a headquarters building in east Belfast.

MLAs have been told that the disbursement of this money has been investigated by the company inspectors.

The Assembly briefing was provided confidentially to the watchdog Public Accounts Committee (PAC) by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI).

There was a shake-up in the operations of the Institute a number of years ago. Its current management had no comment to make this week when contacted by the Belfast Telegraph.

The briefing to the PAC said the company was “technically insolvent” and would be formally wound up.

An investigation and report on the case by PAC is expected in the wake of the company inspection.

It will look at a number of key issues including how BTI was overseen by the Government bodies that provided its funding.

The Institute was officially launched in 2000, but was soon hit by internal dissension and other problems.

The briefing to the Assembly PAC admitted: “The project did not achieve its stated objectives and no economic benefit was derived from the public funding that was provided to the company.”

BTI's headquarters building was originally supposed to be within the grounds of Belfast City Hospital.

However, in 2002 it purchased a building called Harbourgate in Sydenham for £5m. The £100,000 finder's fee was paid in relation to this property deal.

MLAs were told that the building was sold three years later for £4.55m with the money used to pay off debt to a bank, and partially repay a loan.

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