Accountant faces disqualification over £2.2m fiascoby
Northern Ireland’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) has started disqualification proceedings against a chartered accountant at the centre of the failed £2.2m Bioscience and Technology Institute (BTI) project.
Accountant Teresa Townsley had been appointed to the board of the BTI, along with three others, but ended up with her own private company earning £127,000 in fees from the government-backed initiative.
The company went insolvent in 2005 after a series of payments, which auditors found irregular, including £100,000 paid to Mrs Townsley as a 'finder’s fee' for finding a building which proved so unsuitable it was never even fitted out.
The Northern Ireland Audit Office has since produced a new report that shows there were concerns surrounding her conduct along with no evidence that she had told the rest of the board about this payment.
According to the report, "The finder’s fee invoice stated that the fee was at 2% of purchase price, for services rendered on a success fee basis. This invoice was sent with a covering letter to Teresa Townsley at the offices of MTF. However, there is no evidence of this letter and invoice having been discussed by the Board of BTI." It also later explicitly states that "BTI Board members were not aware of the final recipients of the £100,000 finder’s fee."
Townsley has told the BBC that said her involvement with the institute had left her unemployed and unemployable in Northern Ireland.
"I have been through hell and back. I sat for six months contemplating if suicide would take it away," she said. "I could just not believe, I could not believe that anyone could do this to an individual when decisions were made by a board. How could anyone pick on one individual when you are there as a member of a board?
The report also found in its value for money analysis that the BTI project “provided no value for the public funds committed to it. Further, with no sums having been recovered, some £2.2 million of taxpayers’ money has, in effect, been wasted”.
In May 2010, concerns about the conduct of Teresa Townsley and her husband Michael were referred to their professional body, the Chartered Accountants Regulatory Board.
The referrals are currently under consideration by that body, while the DETI is attempting to have her disqualified from being a company director.