FORMER taoiseach Bertie Ahern has denied that he ever owned a foreign bank or building society account.
Mr Ahern insisted during evidence at the Mahon tribunal yesterday that he had only ever held such accounts in Ireland.
His declaration arose after tribunal barrister Des O’Neill SC wondered if it was possible that Mr Ahern could have forgotten having a foreign bank account in the same manner in which he had failed to recollect a series of sterling transactions during 1994.
Mr Ahern said he believed he was being asked the question as property developer Tom Gilmartin had made allegations that he had money in “Mauritius, Liechtenstein and all of those other exotic locations or Manchester or Timbuktu”. However, he pointed out that he could have used bogus names if he had wanted to be deceitful.
He said: “I was out working, out doing mey job, doing my job as a political leader for this country, working my butt off. Not trying to make other than my own income and the few sums of money that I got from others. And then I end up with all of this, but that’s the story of my life.”
The tribunal only learnt last March that the former Fianna Fáil leader had made several lodgements to accounts at the Irish Permanent in Drumcondra, which were the result of sterling exchanges. However, Mr Ahern claimed it was “unfair” for the tribunal to suggest he could have given this information to the inquiry before it learnt about them from the Irish Permanent.
Mr Ahern said he had lodged the money in the Irish Permanent as part of his coming back into the banking system in 1994 after several years without bank accounts. But he acknowledged there was no bank documents that would explain the source of sterling lodgements and withdrawals.
Mr Ahern also outlined how he had considered investing in overseas property after he was encouraged by businessman Tim Kilroe and others to consider buying property at a new development in Salford Quay, Manchester, in the late 1980s.
He had looked at buying an apartment for £85,000 after his marital separation was over. “Ultimately I didn’t because I thought it would just be a fair bit of hassle,” he said.
“It wasn’t a very good commercial decision because it is a very valuable place today,” said Mr Ahern. Asked if he had opened a bank account in Britain with a view to purchasing the property, Mr Ahern said he never had a bank account outside the republic.
However, he had a “short and simple” arrangement with Mr Kilroe to exchange punts for sterling as he wanted the businessman to know that he was serious about investing in property in Manchester. “I told him I wanted to build up a sterling deposit,” he recalled. He added later: “There was no special deal because of who I was.” However, Mr O’Neill suggested it would have been more logical to have opened a bank account and that the politician already had enough sterling savings by 1990 to put down a deposit on any property.
But Mr Ahern retorted he also had to make financial provision for his marital separation, his daughters’ education and a house in Ireland. Mr Ahern said he would usually phone Mr Kilroe in advance to say he intended travelling to Manchester and the sterling exchanges probably took place in a car, hotel or bar and changing £2,000 or £3,000 at a time “wasn’t a big deal”. He stressed the money he exchanged with the late Mr Kilroe accounted for most of the £15,450 sterling lodgements to the Irish Permanent in 1994. Mr Ahern amended an earlier figure that claimed he had won £8,000 from gambling in 1996 and said the correct sum was £5,500.
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