The unanswered questions over Marius Simanaitis ‘suicide’.

AS INQUESTS go, it has to have been one of the most bizarre even by the standards of Dublin County Coroner’s Court.

First of all, none of the dead man’s family managed to be there, having apparently not had enough time to arrange travel from Lithuania.

Nor present at the hearing was the victim’s former partner and the mother of his child – model Irma Mali, now perhaps better known as the partner of rising rock star Danny O’Donoghue of The Script.

Two key witnesses to the death of Marius Simanaitis – who died last March of a pistol shot to the head in his Phoenix Park apartment – were not in attendance either. Both had been drinking with him hours before his body was found.

And even those witnesses who were at the January 12 hearing presented a somewhat bizarre spectacle.

One of them, it emerged, acted as a Garda interpreter when the other two were first questioned, raising some unsettling questions about possible conflicts of interest and therefore, the ability of the gardaí to get untainted recollections of the night’s events.

Furthermore, two of the witnesses who did turn up gave significantly conflicting statements about the position of the body and of the silenced handgun which had been used to end Mr Simanaitis’s life.

And when the lawyer for the family of Mr Simanaitis – who split from Irma more than a year before she began dating Script frontman O’Donoghue – applied for a delay in the start of the inquest, yet another twist emerged.

Gardaí, who had ‘extensively’ investigated the ‘unsuspicious’ death, suddenly announced that the lives of the witnesses would be put at risk if the hearing were to be delayed.

This was, Supt John Quirke told the coroner, based on ‘intelligence’ received from Lithuanian police sources, who claimed the witnesses’ lives had been threatened.

Thus, despite protests from lawyers for Mr Simanaitis’s family, the inquest went ahead and concluded with a verdict of suicide.

And there, perhaps, the matter might have ended – had it not been for the determination of Marius’s family and an investigation which has revealed yet more disturbing aspects to a case that will simply not go away.

These include the fact that a key witness whose statement formed an important part of the inquest is wanted by the PSNI, after he failed to attend court over his alleged role in a mass brawl in Newry months after Mr Simanaitis’s death.

And police say that the witness – 29-yearold Lukas Tiskevicius – already has convictions for ‘fraud, hooliganism and swindling’ in his native Lithuania.

The revelations will only add to the controversy that has dogged this case since Mr Simanaitis’s body was discovered at around 6.30am in an apartment near Phoenix Park on March 11.

He was in the company of at least two other people and a large quantity of drink had been consumed.

His family believe – because of what they have been told by witnesses who visited Marius’s flat on the night he died – that his killer may actually have been a hitman-for-hire over the internet, chillingly named Absolut after the vodka of the same name.

Donatas Simanaitis, the victim’s brother, who is president of a Lithuanian martial-arts federation, has been told by lawyers not to comment on the case in advance of a judicial review hearing.

But last March he said: ‘There is more to my brother’s death than meets the eye. I will not rest until I find out what happened and who was involved.

‘There is no doubt in my mind he was murdered.’ According to the family, Marius had severe bruising and a fractured skull to one side, a gunshot to the other, and defensive wounds on his hand.

But while the postmortem report does describe a variety of bruises around both his eyes, his knuckles and arms, ‘there were no features to indicate any assault or restraint’.

Instead, Deputy State Pathologist Michael Curtis concluded that several scars on his forearms ‘may indicate a previous attempt, or attempts, at self-harm’.

But an examination of the statements given by the last three people known to have seen him alive point to a number of inconsistencies.

Among the most glaring concerns is how people in the flat describe the position of Mr Simanaitis’s body moments after he died.

Hours before, friends had joined him early in the evening for drinks at the flat.

These included fellow Lithuanians Vilius Muznikas, who lived near Clondalkin, and Mr Tiskevicius – whose girlfriend, Jurgita Balsiukeviciute, would eventually join the men around midnight.

She had been working that evening – as an interpreter for the Garda Síochána.

Although at least three other men were at the flat, statements by just Mr Muznikas, Mr Tiskevicius and Miss Balsiukeviciute were used at the inquest.

They told how they met up at the flat and drank their way through two bottles of vodka and a bottle of brandy.

They claimed that at one point in the evening Mr Simanaitis took out the loaded pistol and started playing with it.

He is also said to have taken out a crossbow and brandished it at his friends. Mr Muznikas said: ‘He was showing myself and Lukas the gun saying: “Look what I have.” Marius was very drunk and saying “I’m the man, if you have any problems, I can help you.”‘ After showing the gun around, he then put it down on the ground beside where he sat.

But shortly after Miss Balsiukeviciute arrived, she spotted it and picked it up. There was an argument then as Mr Muznikas grabbed the gun from her and handed it to Mr Simanaitis, telling him to stop scaring her with it.

He recalled: ‘I took the gun off my girlfriend and gave it back to Marius. We were all laughing and shouting at this stage.’ Although he said he put the gun back down beside him, he also said Mr Simanaitis later picked it back up again and he could see ‘there was one bullet in the chamber of the gun’.

Then, when the men ran out of alcohol, they ordered a bottle of Absolut from the internet. It was, they said, delivered between 15 minutes and one hour later.

Although the evening was largely lighthearted, one witness stated that Mr Simanaitis has seemed ‘scared’ of something, had placed a weight behind the door of his rented flat, and had told his guests to stay away from the windows.

Shortly before everybody else retired to sleep sometime later, Mr Simanaitis was described as having started talking about his ‘ex-wife and kids’.

It was some time ‘between five and six’ in the morning that Mr Simanaitis is said to have picked up the loaded pistol and shot himself.

Miss Balsiukeviciute said in her statement that after the gun went off, she ran into the room where his body lay and saw that Mr Simanaitis was ‘lying on his back’ and his face ‘was on his side looking at me’.

However, Mr Muznikas says Marius was lying ‘faced down, his right hand was underneath him and his left hand was up higher on his chest’.

Mr Muznikas told gardaí that ‘the gun was not in Marius’s hand, it was lying on his chest’.

His statement also contradicts the official postmortem report, which stated: ‘The ambulance personnel discovered the man lying on the floor, near a settee, face down with a pistol in his hand.’

The inquest also took no evidence from Irma Mali, the mother of Mr Simanaitis’s child. Irma came to Ireland when she was 18, from her home town of Alytus, near Vilnius.

She and Mr Simanaitis – who had been planning to return to Lithuania to go into business with his brother, Donatas – had been dating for some time and, in 2003, she had given birth to Nikoleta.

Although the couple split in 2007, their parting was amicable and Mr Simanaitis remained on good terms with Irma and ‘utterly devoted to’ their daughter.

Last March, Irma said that while she didn’t want to believe that her ex-partner had been murdered, she could not accept that he could have killed himself.

‘Everything I know about Marius from our time together says he was definitely not the sort of person to kill himself,’ she said. ‘For a start, he was always very happy and positive, and had such an open, optimistic and ambitious outlook on life. In all my time with him, he never showed any signs of depression whatsoever.

‘He did not have a dark side or a part of his character that I could not understand. He was an open book. I trusted him.

‘Secondly, he was utterly devoted to his daughter.

He adored her and was not the sort of person to forego his responsibilities. ‘Thirdly, in all the time I have known Marius – and I have known him since I was 14 – he has never taken drugs, never been convicted of any crime and I have never known him to be associated with criminals.

‘I can understand that, because we are Lithuanian, there might be some narrowminded people who will jump to conclusions, but Marius was one of the good guys.’ And she added: ‘I cannot believe he was found with a gun because I never saw any guns when I was with him.’

Irma made it clear that at that time, her relationship with Marius was in the past. But it also became increasingly clear that her comments on the death were concerning her new partner and his record label.

However, Donatas Simanaitis clearly agreed with Irma’s sentiments, and had questions of his own – including ones about what happened to a large amount of money his brother had before he died.

Donatas asked last March: ‘Where is all the money he was going to invest in the partnership with me?

‘He had about E10,000 that he said he was going to bring over – and that money is now missing.’ Donatas, who is president of the Lithuanian Bushido Federation, also insisted his brother was not a big drinker and had never owned guns. And he and his family believe that the severe bruising and smashed skull are not consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot.

Instead, Donatas remains convinced that his brother was beaten and shot and his death made to look like suicide.

Because of a complaint received by Donatas Simanaitis, the investigation into Marius’s death is itself already the subject of an investigation supervised by the Garda Ombudsman.

There is now a growing belief that, nearly 11 months after this mysterious event, a fresh investigation looks likely.

The Simanaitis family have already applied for a judicial review of the decision to hold the inquest in the first place in a bid to have a fresh one heard.

A garda source said last night: ‘There is a good chance that the investigation into Marius’s death will become the subject of a criminal investigation.

‘As well as the discrepancies in the various statements, there are a number of serious issues that need further investigation.’

Racecourse plans of Rosanna Davison boyfriend Wesley’s dad Richard Quirke

SHE has been a race course regular for a few years now but if her boyfriend’s father gets his way, Rosanna Davison’s time on the turf will have not been in vain.

Slot-machine tycoon Richard Quirke, whose son Wesley has been dating the former Miss World for two years, is said to be planning to build a course on a farm in Co. Tipperary.

He is also said to be planning a casino on the 207-acre Noard House site, outside Two-Mile- Borris, which he bought just over two years ago for €8.2m.

Despite the downturn, he is allegedly keen to snap up properties on land adjoining his. The plan will boost jobs and investment in the area.

The former garda who boosted his fortune from his Dublin gaming arcade, Dr Quirkey’s Good Time Emporium, is said to be developing the racecourse plan as a long-term project.

He is financing it from part of the proceeds of the estimated e30m he made from selling the former one-acre Carlton Cinema site in Dublin.

The accounts for his Dublin pool and juke box firm listed property worth more than e6m and income for himself and wife Ann of just under €3m.

However, Mr Quirke may also be eligible for public funding.

Since the establishment of the Horse And Greyhound Racing Fund in 2001, the Government has committed itself to the development of the horseracing industry.

The 2007 National Development Plan allowed for the provision of e70m to go toward helping finance new racecourses.

When asked about Mr Quirke’s plans, Noard House’s previous owner, Richard O’Connell, said he would ‘prefer not to discuss it’.

A neighbour, Jimmy Moriarty, said: ‘I haven’t been asked but I wouldn’t move, even if he offered me e2m, because this is my home and has been since 1955.

‘If he built a 10ft wall around my property to keep horses off it, I wouldn’t object to him applying to have a racecourse on his land.’

John Cantwell, another neighbour, said: ‘If he did offer, I would consider it and maybe retire to the village but this is my homeland, so I would have to think about it.’

Thomas Byrne car collection seized

LUXURY car collection worth almost €300,000 owned by disgraced lawyer Thomas Byrne was seized just days before the Law Society shut his practice down.

A group of five men turned up to a lockup on an industrial estate in Walkinstown where the collection was parked, and drove away a number of cars.

They are understood to be used by drivers at two limousine-hire companies believed to have been funded by Mr Byrne, who last Wednesday was ordered by the High Court to pay e30m back to four financial institutions. He was before the courts in connection with dodgy home loans totalling €35m.

One of the biggest loans is the e9m he borrowed from IIB Bank in August. As well as demanding that Mr Byrne hand the money back, the judge has also ordered that he be investigated by the National Bureau of Fraud Investigation.

And on Friday, detectives from the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) and the fraud bureau seized thousands of documents belonging to the solicitor that were stored at the Law Society.

The car collection included two replica 1930s-style Beauford Tourer convertibles worth e16,000 each, a €78,000 Bentley Arnage, a €120,000 Bentley Continental Flying Spur and a €56,000 Mercedes E Class.

The cars were hired out as part of corporate and private packages. One of the companies employs drivers who all have ‘security clearance at diplomatic level’.

Some of the cars were stored at a garage on the industrial estate but were driven away some time after businessman Brian Downes, 40 – reportedly a client of Mr Byrne – was gunned down.

Downes was shot in Walkinstown, south Dublin, along with local car dealer Eddie Ward, 27 – with whom he happened to be talking at the time – on October 5. Downes was a gangland ‘Mr Fixit’ said to have been involved in money laundering and stolen cars. At the time of his death, he is thought to have had assets of more than €7.5m and was being investigated by CAB.

According to newspaper reports, CAB detectives were also taking an interest in Mr Byrne – who is not known to have either been convicted of any criminal offences or been involved in criminal activity.

But he is said to be living in fear of his life because a number of his clients are believed to be linked to various crime bosses.

Mr Byrne’s link to Downes was further underlined last night when it emerged that he used Mr Byrne’s former marital home as his private address.

The 5 Greenhills Road address – where Mr Byrne used to live with estranged wife Michelle, is given under details of Downes’s directorship of a firm called Vans for Cash Ltd, which was set up last January.

A former associate of Mr Byrne said last night: ‘Everyone is trying to make sense of what on earth has been going on in this guy’s life.

‘The people who came to collect his cars didn’t look as if they worked for your regular, main street collection agency.

‘There wasn’t any violence but from what I hear, they made sure people knew they meant business and fully intended taking back the cars.’ The source added: ‘Very few people outside Byrne’s circle of business associates knew anything about the likes of Brian Downes.

‘The word going round now is that Byrne was way out of his depth and may well have been pressurised into taking out loans by some pretty shadowy figures.

‘It’s little wonder he doesn’t look like a well man. He is not only in a lot of trouble with the authorities but some of his business associates and clients are genuinely concerned that the trouble he is in could lead a trail to their door.’ Last Wednesday, the High Court heard that 10 EBS loans were made to Mr Byrne between August 2003 and August 2007 to help him buy property.

Mr Byrne owes the firm at least e12.5m, a further e4.8m to Anglo Irish Bank and e2.5m to ACC Bank.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly in the Commercial Court said Mr Byrne’s files should be handed over to fraud detectives because they contain what he described as ‘disturbing matters’.

What has stunned observers as much as the size of his loans, is how Mr Byrne was ever loaned any money after being found guilty of misconduct on December 7, 2006, by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal on eight counts.

These included the fact that he allowed a €1,696,969 deficit in his client account, failed to maintain proper accounts between dates in 2004 and 2005 and ‘allowed personal transactions of the solicitor himself to be drawn down from the client bank account, where no cleared funds were held on his behalf.’ As a result, he had to pay e15,000 to the Solicitors’ Compensation Fund and pay the Law Society’s costs.

Details of the case would have shown up on the most basic free search using internet-engine Google.

Mr Byrne – a director in Compass Property Development – is the second Dublin solicitor in almost as many months to have action taken against him by the Law Society of Ireland, not to mention a string of banks who loaned vast sums of cash.

The other solicitor being investigated, Michael Lynn, faces having to repay up to €70m in loans.

His case could also result in criminal proceedings against him.