Belfast Telegraph

Belfast tycoon paid £80,000 in bribes to MoD pair

By Michael Donnelly

A businessman who paid two MoD officials more than £80,000 received more than £16m in contracts, a court has heard.

However, the prosecuting lawyer for 73-year-old James Daniel McGeown said there was no extra cost to the public.

McGeown, of Cadogan Park, Belfast, had already pleaded guilty to 16 charges of corruption.

These involved the payments to MoD officials William Ronnie Marks and John Symington.

At the time of the offences between 1998 and 2004, McGeowned VIS Securities Solutions.

The company paid Marks £66,500 and Symington £18,000 for what was described as “insider information”.

A bankrupted Marks, from Richmond Avenue, Lisburn, who was a deputy senior commercial officer with the MoD at the time, faces sentence for receiving corrupt payments and three separate charges of money laundering.

Symington, from Laurel Hill Road, Lisburn, a senior quantity surveyor, also pleaded guilty to receiving corrupt payments.

Mr Justice McLaughlin, who said he hoped to pass sentence before Easter, also heard that the court will be asked to make orders under the proceeds of crimes.

In McGeown's case the prosecution will be asking the court to order him to pay £1m by way of confiscation and in the cases of Marks and Symington, they will be asked to pay any monies they received plus interest.

Earlier Mr McCollum said there was no extra cost to the taxpayer as what had occurred did not involve any fraudulent contracts.

The MoD, he said, would have been spending the £16m on the provision and maintenance of CCTV equipment in any event, regardless of who got the contracts.

Mr McCollum said the prosecution case was simply that McGeown, who was tendering for MoD contracts, paid monies to Marks and Symington, and they accepted them for no legitimate reason.

The lawyer added that all the prosecution had to prove was monies were paid over, not that any favour was offered, or given, or achieved by the officials.

Defence QC John McCrudden, for McGeown, said that despite the circumstantial nature of the case against him he had chosen to plead guilty which quite clearly had saved an immense amount of court time and public money.

McGeown now planned to “divest himself” of his companies.

In addition he will lose £1m by way of the confiscation order.

Mr McCrudden said that the one time “lowly tea boy” has had the immense burden of this case hanging over him for a decade.

Barry MacDonald QC, for Marks, said he too deserved credit for pleading guilty to a case where the evidence was full of obvious gaps, tenuous and circumstantial.

Mr MacDonald said there was no evidence to suggest he did anything to favour VIS or McGeown and any role he had was “very

limited and peripheral”, but added that while there was no loss to the MoD or the taxpayer, Marks now “recognises he should not have done what he did”.

“This was the biggest mistake of his life,” said Mr MacDonald, adding that “he is now in financial ruin”.

“Far from being enriched, he has been irretrievably impoverished, he’s a broken man.”

Mr MacDonald said Marks had been disowned by both family and friends, and having lost his wife, his job, his reputation and home, his future looked bleak and he will continue to pay a very heavy price for the rest of his life.

Defence QC Paul Ramsey, for Symington, said his plea was quite cataclysmic for him to make, although the admissions were of great benefit to the authorities both in time and savings. Symington's once exemplary career with the MoD, he added, was “now blotted” by his offending.

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