Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

Probe into failed medical research firm nearly over

A long-running investigation into a failed taxpayer-funded research company is drawing to a close, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

And it has been learned that a ‘finder’s fee’ linked to a property deal has been one of the issues under examination.

The probe into the now defunct Bioscience and Technology Institute was ordered by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) more than three years ago.

It has been conducted by |outside accountants under company inspection law.

DETI has to date given no |details of the remit of the investigation.

But the Belfast Telegraph |understands that the work has included a review of a sizeable finder’s fee payment.

This fee is believed to have been in the region of £100,000 and to have been paid in connection with a headquarters building purchased in east Belfast.

A finder’s fee is normally paid to a person who brings a buyer and seller together — for instance by identifying suitable premises for the purchaser.

The Bioscience and Technology Institute launched in 2000 with the goal of encouraging pioneering medical research. It received £2m in public money, but failed to deliver on its objectives and ceased trading within a few years.

DETI established the company inspection in December 2005, after receiving a complaint in |relation to the institute.

A spokeswoman for the department yesterday said: “The inspectors are in the process of finalising their draft report. A final date for the production of the report has not been set.”

It is not yet known if the investigation report will be made |public. However, it is expected that the findings will eventually come before the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for examination.

Both the Stormont committee and the Westminster PAC have received confidential updates on the inspection over the last three years.

In a report in May 2006, the Commons’ PAC called for the probe to be “brought to a conclusion as soon as possible so that |lessons can be learnt”.

The Bioscience Institute was officially launched at Hillsborough Castle in June 2000, where it was described as providing a major boost to the Northern |Ireland economy.

It was at one stage envisaged that its headquarters would be located within the grounds of Belfast City Hospital.

A building at Sydenham in east Belfast was instead purchased. The finder’s fee is understood to have been paid in relation to this acquisition.

It is also believed that equipment bought for the Bioscience centre remained unused and in storage for a number of years.

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