By Andrew Bushe and Susan Falvella-Garraty
DUBLIN — Disgraced financier Finbarr Ross pleaded not guilty to a series of charges relating to the collapse of his company International Investments Ltd. in 1984 when he appeared in court in Northern Ireland after being extradited from the U.S.
Ross was arraigned at a special sitting of Belfast Magistrates Court Monday on a series of 41 charges relating to the Gibraltar-based IIL, which had 1,200 investors.
In 1983, it collapsed and up to $11 million in investments was lost. About 400 people from Northern Ireland suffered losses of over $1 million.
Ross was flown to Belfast from Alexandria, Va., last weekend, escorted by RUC officers. He had been arrested in Oklahoma and had been fighting extradition for over a year.
Ross, 53, originally from Cork, had been living in the U.S. for 15 years and had been ordained a minister of the Light of Christ Church.
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His American lawyers had claimed that Ross could not get a fair trial in Northern Ireland because of adverse publicity. It would also be virtually impossible for him to defend himself because of the delay in bringing the charges, the loss of documents and the death of witnesses, the lawyer said.
Though the charges relate to alleged offenses in 1983 and 1984, the warrants for his arrest were not issued until 1996. A file was also sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions in the Republic but no charges were preferred. "We do not comment on individual cases," a Justice Department official in Dublin said this week.
The extradition of Ross, meanwhile, was shrouded in a veil of secrecy right up to the point of departure.
"We can’t even say that he is here," David Sacks of the U.S. Marshall Service in Alexandria said last week. "But after he leaves we can let you know."
Such cloak-and-dagger drama enshrouded Ross throughout the extradition process that has taken over a year to complete.
During proceedings, two faces of Finbarr Ross have emerged: a religious family man backed by neighbors and friends, and an arrogant investor who allegedly spent other people’s money on a lifestyle that included a yacht and foreign getaway properties.