Tribunal fails to unravel Ahern money trail




The Mahon tribunal has found former taoiseach Bertie Ahern did not truthfully account for bank lodgements and savings totalling around IR£275,000.

But despite a controversially epic and costly investigation, which included a trawl through his financial affairs, the tribunal could not get to the end of the money trail.

The inquiry focused on 11 lodgements to several bank accounts, either controlled or linked to the ex-Fianna Fail leader, and his claim of substantial savings.

The sums involved both Irish punts, sterling and US dollars between 1987 and 1995.

In each of the dozen cases, the tribunal said it was unable to establish the source of the money because Mr Ahern failed to give a truthful explanation to the investigation.

The report rejected claims that Mr Ahern’s friends Des Richardson and Gerry Brennan made a IR£22,500 collection for the then finance minister in December 1993.

The tribunal said it was “satisfied” Mr Ahern never received that money - either as a gift or a loan – from either men. The money was lodged in his special savings account.

Evidence by some of Mr Ahern’s associates – including publican Charlie Chawke, Michael Collins, David McKenna and Jim Nugent – about the money coming from a whip-around was also dismissed.

The tribunal said it accepted former adviser and NCB stockbrokers managing director Padraic O’Connor’s contention that he wasn’t a close friend of Mr Ahern at that time, when he was asked by Mr Richardson to make a donation towards the running of the former taoiseach’s St Luke’s constituency office.

Mr Richardson told the tribunal that a bank draft for IR£5,000 – making up part of the IR£22,500 sum – was funded through NCB stockbrokers, on the orders of Mr Richardson.

But the tribunal said the evidence did not support that and it also ruled out the money coming personally from Mr O’Connor – as Mr Ahern has claimed.

The tribunal accepted that the former taoiseach cashed salary and expenses cheques for years and paid off bills and other outgoings using cash, rather than bank transactions.

Mr Ahern’s claim to have put aside IR£54,000 savings in cash between 1987 and 1993 was rejected.

The tribunal said it did not believe Mr Ahern’s explanations about lodgements totalling IR£30,000 made in April 1994.

Mr Ahern did not disclose the “true source” of another lodgement of IR£20,000 made in August 1994, the report found. Again, the inquiry said it was unable to find out where the cash came from in both occasions.

Claims of another whip-around for Mr Ahern – this time totalling £8,000Stg - after a dinner in Manchester, along with a further IR£16,500 repayable loan, allegedly given to him by friends and which was lodged in his bank in October 1994, were not accepted by the tribunal.

The tribunal said it was satisfied the total amount lodged on that date was in fact funded by £25,000Stg in cash.

The tribunal also rejected evidence by Mr Ahern that approximately IR£30,000 - lodged into a bank account in the name of his former partner Celia Larkin on December 5, 1994 – was given to him by his friend, Manchester-based businessman Michael Wall, to buy Mr Ahern’s current home on Beresford Avenue, Drumcondra.

The tribunal said it was satisfied the source of the foreign currency which funded the lodgement of IR£28,772.90 was US 45,000. Mr Ahern had flatly denied he had ever dealt with dollars.

The tribunal also examined the lodgement of IR£11,743.74 to a bank account belonging to Ms Larkin in June 1995.

It rejected Mr Ahern’s claims that part of these funds – IR£9,743.74 from a £10,000Stg transaction – had come from IR£50,000 withdrawn from Ms Larkin’s account in January. This included £30,000Stg she had lodged the previous December which he wanted back.

The tribunal also accused Mr Ahern of failing to truthfully reveal the source of sterling used to fund a IR£19,142.92 lodgement on December 1, 1995.

The inquiry rejected Mr Ahern’s explanation about the source of £15,500Stg lodged into his own and his daughters’ accounts at the Irish Permanent building society over seven months in 1994.

The ex-taoiseach had told the hearings he sometimes cashed his salary and expenses cheques, sent money to the UK to be converted into sterling, before bringing it back to keep in a safe in Dublin. The source of this money could not be established.

“The tribunal also rejected Mr Ahern’s evidence that he had saved sterling towards the purchase of an investment property in Manchester,” the report states.

The tribunal rejected a bank account – known as a building trust (BT) account - was set up in 1989 for the upkeep and maintenance of Mr Ahern’s constituency office St Luke’s – and ruled it was operated until at least 1997 for the personal benefit of Mr Ahern and Tim Collins, who owned St Luke’s.

Furthermore, the tribunal did not believe a IR£20,000 withdrawal from the account in August 1994 was connected with any repair or refurbishment, stating the true purpose remains unexplained.

Two substantial lodgements into the account – of IR£19,000 and IR£10,000 in 1992 and 1995 – were also unexplained.

“The tribunal believed that Mr Ahern and Mr Collins were in a position to accurately account for the origins of substantial lodgements... but did not do so,” the report states.

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