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.’

Sinister end to former boyfriend of Irma Mali

AS IRMA Mali shifts from youthful confidence one minute to distraught confusion the next, you can hardly recognise her as one of Ireland’s top models.

Normally polished and very much the statuesque Lithuanian beauty who has taken the catwalks of Ireland – and beyond, to Paris, Milan and London – by storm, she sits at the table of a central Vilnius restaurant with her head in her hands.

She plays nervously with the 20 or so bracelets on her right arm, visibly struggling with the realisation that the first love of her life – the father of her daughter – is dead.

But his is no ordinary death, and the curious circumstances in which it happened are looking more sinister by the day.

Given that she has only just buried Marius Simanaitis – a martial arts expert and personal bodyguard to some of Ireland’s

wealthiest businessmen – she is understandably ill at ease. After all, this is the first time she has spoken publicly about

anything other than her modelling career.

Painfully shy by nature, she is fully, albeit reluctantly, aware that since her relationship with Script singer Danny

O’Donoghue became public earlier this year, she has been thrust into an unwelcome limelight of sorts.

But the suspicions around 28-year-old Marius’s death won’t let her be silent. She must speak out, she is convinced, for

the sake of his family and the Garda’s ongoing investigation into his death. It merited little more than a few paragraphs in

a newspaper report just over a week ago, and it was suggested that Marius, who was not named in the article, had

committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.

His body had been discovered at 6.30am in an apartment near the Phoenix Park on March 11. He had died from a single gunshot to the head.

The pistol – which had been fitted with a silencer – was found firmly clasped in his hand. He was in the company of at least two other people and a large quantity of drink had been taken.

For Irma, the trauma was compounded by the way she found out. The shocking news didn’t come in the form of a polite

knock on the door from an apologetic garda. Instead, it came in a text message hours later from mutual friends, who have known each other since their teens.

Trembling nervously, Irma – who moved to Ireland with Marius more than six years ago – said: ‘They simply asked if I had heard. I hadn’t.

‘Finding out your ex-boyfriend is dead by text message is a very painful experience and I just didn’t believe it. I called his

brother and he came over with friends.’ What deeply troubles her is the suggestion that he could kill himself. As to the

possibility he could have been murdered, she cannot even bring herself to talk, let alone think, about it.

But his family are in no doubt he was murdered and even believe – because of what they have been told by witnesses

who stopped by Marius’s flat on the night he died as well as the accounts given by the last people to see him alive – that

his killer may actually have been a hitmanfor-hire from the internet, chillingly called Absolut after the vodka of the same

name.

Donatas Simanaitis, Marius’s older brother and president of a respected Lithuanian martial-arts federation, said: ‘There is

more to my brother’s death than meets the eye and I will not rest until I find out what happened and who was involved.

‘There is no doubt in my mind he was murdered. He didn’t just have a gunshot wound to his head.’

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. Of course, the hand wounds could have pre-existed due to the fact that Marius, as stated, was a keen martial-arts

exponent.

Irma, whose surname is a shortened version of her family name, Malinauskaite, came to Ireland when she was 18, from

her home town of Alytus, near Vilnius.

She and Marius – who had recently been planning to return to Lithuania to go into business with Donatas – had been dating for some time. He got offered ‘a good job’ and left for Dublin. She, naturally, followed.

They set up home together and, three months after moving, she fell pregnant.

In 2003, she gave birth to Nikoleta. At the time, the couple were living in the north inner city, on Parnell Square.

He was working as a security guard and she was employed as a cook, though she took on occasional modelling

assignments.

Two years later, Irma – who had been modelling in Lithuania since she was 13 – walked into First Option modelling

agency in Dublin and was signed up on the spot.

By 2007, however, she and Marius had run their course and the couple parted.

The split was amicable and she made sure he received plenty of access to Nikoleta.

Irma’s modelling career took off and, last year, she was cast in the video for an up-and-coming rock band called The

Script.

The band’s lead singer, Danny O’Donoghue, was instantly smitten and they began, to use his phrase, ‘ courtin’. Last November, Dubliner Danny, 25, and

the statuesque Lithuanian were pictured after the Cheerios Childline concert, heading to the after- party in Lillie’s

Bordello.

They arrived at the star- studded bash arm- in- arm and were then spotted out together again the following month, at the

U2 Christmas bash in Bentley’s.

Now the couple are extremely close, and O’Donoghue has been extremely supportive during Irma’s fortnight of trauma.

While she knows that her relationship with the Meteor Award-winning star – whose band have enjoyed a No. 1 album here and in Britain and seem set to crack America next – will push Marius’s death further into the limelight, she is also

determined not to let that cloud the key question: how did her first love end up dying in a Phoenix Park apartment, shot in

the head with a silenced pistol?

Irma is trying to be strong for herself as well as six-year-old Nikoleta but she finds it hard to articulate the thought that her ex-partner was murdered.

Nevertheless, she is adamant he did not kill himself..

‘ I don’t want to believe he was murdered because of any implications that this realisation brings,’ she says carefully, ‘but

one thing I do know is that everything I know about Marius from our time together says he was definitely not the sort of

person to kill himself.’ ‘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 devoted to his daughter. He adored her and was not the sort of person to forego his responsibilities.

‘He was utterly devoted to her.

‘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 narrow-minded people who will jump to

conclusions but he was one of the good guys.

‘I cannot believe he was found with a gun because I never saw any guns when I was with him. And yes, okay, he was a

fighter and whatever connotation martial arts has for people is one thing, but he was also a sportsman.

‘So, too, might be any connotation some might associate with security guards in general and bodyguards in particular but

if I did not believe he was anything other than what he was – a fit, strong, hard-working, decent guy – I would not say it.

‘I have lived my own life since we split more than two years ago and, as much as I loved him and stayed in touch with

him, if I suspected he was involved in anything unsavoury, I would say so. But he was a decent man.

‘I cannot bring myself to entertain too many thoughts about what did or didn’t happen because I have to be strong for

Nikoleta as much as for myself.

‘He only ever wanted the best for me and for our daughter. He was never a jealous man and we have led separate lives

for some time now.

‘If anybody thinks there is any relation between his death and my relationship with Danny, they are wrong.

‘He had his own relationships and plans for his future. We once planned a future together but we just grew apart. These

things happen.

‘Danny has been great. He has been very supportive but I do not think it is appropriate for me to bring him into this

situation,’ added Irma.

‘To be honest, I am just very confused right now, and reality just hasn’t sunk in yet. I am taking each day as it comes.

‘I have told Nikoleta that daddy is gone but I cannot explain everything to her. This is partly because I do not know myself but also because she is just very scared and doesn’t really know what to make of the situation.’ Marius was found in the early hours of Wednesday, March 11. The Friday before his death was the last time

Irma had spokes to him. Tears welling in her eyes, she insisted: ‘He was his normal self. He mentioned he was going to

Lithuania to meet up with his family.

‘It was normal for him to do that. I didn’t ask too many questions because it all seemed so normal, and I certainly don’t

think he was trying to tell me anything or say goodbye.

‘We talked all the time, although usually about access and when he was coming to see Nikoleta or take her somewhere.’

Donatas, however, is convinced Marius’s death was murder – not least because of the apparently conflicting accounts by

people who were in the flat on the night he died.

He said: ‘I have heard three versions of what they say – he committed suicide after they went to bed, he lost in a game of

Russian roulette or he was just fooling around with a gun and it went off by mistake.’ Bristling with grief-stricken anger,

Donatas added: ‘I wish they would make their minds up.

‘I wish also somebody would answer a few key questions – like why there were no powder burns on his face.

Why was the pistol still in his hand when he was discovered and where on earth did the gun come from? ‘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,’ he claimed.

Donatas, who is president of the Lithuanian Bushido Federation, also points to a number of other factors, namely that his

brother was not a big drinker and had never owned guns.

He and his family believe that the severe bruising and smashed skull are not consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot.

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

Irma cannot bring herself to focus on these details in the way that Donatas does. For her, the overwhelming emotion is

loss.

‘I miss him, and I am devastated that he has gone,’ she says.

‘I have lost a friend and a former lover but, most importantly, my daughter has lost her father.’