A few random shots from the first of the two days’ races at this year’s Phoenix Park Motor Races.
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.’
AFTER years of speculation about his various ‘close friends’ while in Ireland, the US ambassador has finally came clean.
Speaking at his leaving do at the ambassador’s official residence in Phoenix Park, Dublin, Thomas C Foley revealed he is engaged.
But the name of his intended will not ring any bells with anyone here, despite the women he was linked to over the years.
Last night he said: ‘Contrary to what some people have said about me, the young lady I am going to get married to lives . . . in the States.’
He revealed he got engaged to one of George Bush’s associate councillors at The Whitehouse Leslie Fahrenkopf last summer, and the couple intend to start a family after an ‘April or May’ wedding.
Last night, the father-of-one said: ‘I’ve been associated with a number of people and almost all of what has been said about those friendships has been untrue.
‘The truth is, I’ve made some good friendships while I have been here. And that is really all there is to say about them.
‘One of the reasons why I am marrying soon is because I am not getting any younger.’
Previously 53-year-old divorcee Foley has been linked to actor John Hurt’s ex-girlfriend Sarah Owen.
She was writing for a self- styled ‘thinking woman’s’ magazine while he was – or so people thought – very much the eligible man about town, regarded as a proverbial ‘poster boy’ for her affluent, middle-aged readers of The Gloss.
That they were supposed to be something of an item last summer – around about the time Mr Foley had dropped down on bended knee and proposed – was the talk of Dublin’s social whirl.
Another woman he was linked to was RTE’s Mary Kennedy, but now all that seems to be little more than ‘idle gossip for the chattering classes’ – as one Foley aid put it last night.
Before he made his announcement, he joked about how he had been told about the moment one realises you are no longer an US ambassador.
He said: ‘This happens when you jump into the back of your car and nothing happens.’ He also apologised to the small group diplomats if he had made any ‘diplomatic faux pas’.
He said: ‘I’m not a career diplomat, so I was pretty much learning on the job. I did the best I could.’
Of the job itself, he said: ‘It was a wonderful experience. I couldn’t recommend this life enough – nice house, nice neighbourhood, chefs, cars, and it’s all free. I’ll miss it.’
He also hinted that he may now run for office in America.
Guests at the party included Gerry Ryan, Ryan Tubridy, ex-Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, and ex-Justice Minister, Malcolm McDowell.
Mr Foley, who has a 17-year-old son – Thomas Foley Jnr, who is dating Irish actress Sarah Bolger – became US Ambassador to Ireland in October 2006. He was appointed to the position by George Bush.
He had previously worked in Iraq, where he oversaw the development of most of the war-torn country’s 192 state-owned businesses.
While in office, Foley was embroiled in a minor controversy over the Government’s stance on genetically-modified crops.
In August last year, it was revealed that he had written to the government expressing his disappointment at its stated aim of turning Ireland into a GM-free zone.
An internal briefing paper prepared for Government junior ministers discloses that Mr Foley wrote to Minister for Health, Mary Harney, in July 2007 stating his opposition to the current abstention policy.
He said that the US government perceived the stance ‘as detrimental to biotechnology and a possible barrier to trade’