By: Michael O’Farrell

Investigations Editor 

A FIRM caught up in a multinational US investigation into kickbacks and bribes was secretly part-owned by two of Goal’s most senior executives, the Irish Mail on Sunday can reveal.

The failure of Jonathan Edgar, the Irish charity’s former chief operating officer, to admit to US investigators his business relationship with a man at the centre of the US Aid probe, led to a series of events that culminated in his resignation last year.

In April 2016, all funding to Goal from US Aid – the American body that oversees emergency aid funding from the US – was stopped and the charities CEO later resigned. But now the Mail on Sunday can reveal the dramatic secret report by accountancy firm BDO which almost caused Goal to implode last year.

As previously reported by the MoS, Mr Edgar set up aid firm Noble House in 2013 with the charity’s then Head of Risk, Audit and Compliance, Jerry Cole. A third founding partner in Noble House was a Goal logistics specialist called Ernst Halilov, who Goal had previously investigated after allegations of corruption. Yet despite these prior concerns, the charity’s executives secretly went into business with Mr Halilov, at a time when he was being investigated by Mr Cole, the BDO report reveals.

The report was delivered to Goal in August last year, at a time when Jonathan Edgar was suspended from the charity. He subsequently resigned. Crucially, the report finds Mr Cole and Mr Edgar – the second highest executive in Goal at the time – sought to disguise their business relationship with Mr Halilov.

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The report, obtained by the MoS, presents forensically recovered mobile phone messages between Mr Cole and Mr Edgar showing how they discussed hiding their ownership of Noble House. These discussions took place after Goal’s then CEO Barry Andrews instructed the pair to relinquish their ownership of Noble House because of the conflict of interest it posed.

Mr Andrews also ordered a year’s ‘cooling off’ period during which Goal would refrain from giving business to Noble House.

But after that period – and with Noble House still secretly controlled by its original founders – Goal did begin paying Noble House, and a sister company called Red Rose, for services. In addition, the BDO investigation identifies how Mr Halilov allegedly ‘bribed and corrupted’ Goal staff on the ground in Syria to enable him to ‘place companies, with which he may have had a financial relationship, on Goal’s Restricted Supplier List’.

This allegation, which US investigators have corroborated, does not relate to Noble House but to other firms. The BDO investigation, was commissioned by Goal after USAid cancelled its funding last year.

The report singles out Mr Edgar’s apparent failure to inform US agents and Goal of his continuing association with Noble House even during a December 2015 phone interview with the agents. Despite information being available to Goal at the time that Noble House/Red Rose was under investigation, and was blacklisted by the UK’s Department of International Development, in February last year, Goal entered into business with Red Rose for a technology pilot in Nepal. But the report found no evidence of any financial irregularity within Red Rose or Noble House.

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Special agents from USAid investigations unit contacted Goal Chairwoman Anne O’Leary in March last year to express their concern that Mr Edgar, the most senior member of Goal staff involved in responding to their inquiries, had failed to disclose his association with Halilov.

The next month, USAid funding was suspended, and an investigation was launched. That investigation concluded in August last year, and Mr Edgar resigned in September. In October, then CEO, former Fianna Fáil minister Mr Andrews, resigned.

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Jonathan Edgar – Resigned last year.

The report found no evidence that he was made aware of any Noble House/Red Rose’s involvement in the USAid investigation. USAid funding was restored in April this year, but a proposed merger between Goal and Oxfam Ireland ended without a deal in July. Among the files BDO investigators discovered are records showing that Mr Cole, as Goal’s then Head of Risk, Audit and Compliance, had ‘conducted an investigation into allegations of corruption against Mr Hallilov in respect of Goal’s South Sudan programme between November 2012 and January 2013.’ Mr Cole’s investigation ‘reported a number of serious irregularities in procurement processes’ in Sudan.

Asked about the Sudan investigation by BDO investigators, Mr Edgar said he ‘was unable to recall receiving or reading’ Mr Cole’s report into Mr Halilov and that he had been reassured verbally by Mr Cole that the issues related to irregularities in paperwork and process only. Yet as these concerns about Mr Halilov were being raised, both Mr Cole and Mr Edgar were contemplating going into business with him, and later did.

Contacted by the MoS, Mr Cole said the BDO investigation report was ‘speculative, incomplete and inaccurate.’ He said: ‘I am not aware of any bid-rigging or other such acts by any shareholder or director of Noble House.’ Goal said it had acted swiftly once informed of the concerns, and appointed independent auditors BDO to carry out an investigation in April last year. In November, 2016, Goal announced the appointment of Celine Fitzgerald as General Manager, to oversee the implementation of the charity’s ‘Action Plan’ and to drive a reform agenda within the organisation.

Goal made a number of other key changes to its senior management team, including the departures and appointments of key individuals as well as a general overhaul of its management structure.

These changes include the appointment of a dedicated Head of Ethics and Compliance at senior management level and the creation of an Investigative Unit, headed by a former senior Garda officer.’ Attempts to contact Mr Edgar were not responded to.

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