AN ambitious plan to bring hundreds of Saudi Arabian students to study in Ireland has been abandoned and the man who masterminded the scheme has had his car firebombed, the Sunday Tribune can reveal.
The '08 Mercedes belonging to controversial former chief executive Seán Whelan was destroyed after a firebomb attack at his home in Citywest, Dublin on 5 September.
Gardaí are investigating the incident and are known to be extremely concerned about Whelan's safety. They are probing claims that he has received a number of death threats.
Last July a receiver was appointed to Citywest, part of the Mansfield Group which was founded by multi-millionaire businessman Jim Mansfield, and Whelan was relieved of his responsibilities as chief executive shortly after.
He had been the driving force behind the Citywest Institute of Further Education which was to cater for 750 Saudi Arabian students and was allegedly worth in the region of €250m. The institute was to create up to 300 jobs.
Whelan claimed the Saudi Ministry of Education was supporting the venture and had invested at least €10m in the project, which was backed by South Dublin County Council and received planning permission last June.
The students were to be housed in apartments which have fallen victim to the property crash and work on converting the accommodation is already understood to have begun.
However, the Saudis have denied supporting the project, saying: "The claim that 750 students are going to study English at Mansfield Group's Citywest institute is far from real."
Sources say the establishment of the language school was key to the future survival of Citywest and Jim Mansfield's empire.
This weekend, a spokesman for the receiver of the Mansfield Group confirmed the proposed language school is not part of the receivership process.
Dublin VEC, which initially supported the project and had committed to supplying it with teachers, confirmed it has now withdrawn that support.
Sources say the Saudi college was never at an advanced stage and will not now open.
One source said: "Everyone was behind the project initially and it was well sold by Whelan but all was never well behind the scenes and I would be amazed if it ever goes ahead."
Seán Whelan, who has had a controversial career and was declared bankrupt on foot of debts he owed to businessman Dermot Desmond, confirmed to the Sunday Tribune that his car had been set on fire last week. "I'm in hospital at the moment and have been for the last two weeks," he said. "I don't know who did it. I wish I did."
He is understood to be suffering a stress-related illness. He denied any threats have been made against his life and said he doesn't believe he has any major outstanding debts.
Whelan told the Sunday Tribune he wasn't in a position to talk about the project because of his stay in hospital. When asked whether he was still working for Mansfield, he replied: "Not at the moment because I'm in here. I've been out of action for two weeks."
During a drink-driving case in the district court last June involving Jim Mansfield Jnr, Whelan gave evidence that he and Jim Jnr had been out earlier that evening entertaining a Saudi dignitary. Whelan has also travelled to the kingdom a number of times.
Efforts to contact Jim Mansfield Snr were unsuccessful.