Disgraced Burke on falsified tax charges

DISGRACED former Fianna Fáil Justice Minister Ray Burke, who sold his house for almost €4 million in 2000 and received corrupt payments totalling at least £250,000 in the 1980s, will be seeking free legal aid to fight tax charges brought against him yesterday.

Mr Burke could face between 12 months and eight years imprisonment if convicted on the charge of knowingly making a false declaration when availing of the 1993 tax amnesty.

He now claims to be in financial difficulty. He was served with a €2m tax bill by the CAB less than a fortnight ago.

He is also looking for the State to pick up a €10.5m legal bill, which he incurred over his long-running dealings with the Flood Tribunal. However, few legal experts believe he will be successful in such an application given Mr Justice Feargus Flood ruled that Mr Burke had obstructed the inquiry on 14 separate issues.

The DPP is considering whether Mr Burke and businessmen who gave him corrupt payments should face criminal charges for such an offence.

The former Dublin North TD, who was dressed in a dark suit and black overcoat, did not speak during yesterday's short hearing at Dublin District Court, his first time appearing on a tax related charge.

Judge David Anderson remanded Mr Burke on his own bail of €600 to appear before the same court again on January 19.

If found guilty on summary trial, Mr Burke, aged 60, of Griffith Downs, Drumcondra, could face a maximum prison sentence of 12 months, plus a fine of €1,524 under Section 9 of the Waiver of Certain Tax, Interest and Penalties Act 1993.

However, if the case is transferred to the Circuit Court, a convicted person could face up to eight years in jail combined with a fine of twice the sum of money not declared to the tax authorities. Mr Burke may also face a related yet separate demand for tax, interest and penalties from the Revenue Commissioners.

The alleged offence is believed to have taken place on or around December 15, 1993, when Mr Burke, a former Justice and Foreign Minister, was a serving TD.

Green Party justice spokesman Ciaran Cuffe last night issued a statement calling for detailed vetting of the tax affairs of everyone who took advantage of the various tax amnesties over the years.

Yesterday, CAB officer Detective Inspector Denis O'Leary gave evidence of arresting Mr Burke by arrangement on foot of a warrant at the Bridewell garda station at 1.58pm yesterday. He told the court Mr Burke replied "not guilty" after being cautioned.

Gardaí did not object to an application for bail by Mr Burke's solicitor, Vincent Shannon, after hearing his client had no intention of leaving the jurisdiction. Mr Shannon said the former Fianna Fáil TD would also be making an application for free legal aid.

The latest development in Mr Burke's chequered political career has resulted from a detailed investigation into his financial affairs by the CAB over the past 15 months.

In turn, it followed last year's landmark report by the former chairman of the Planning Tribunal, Mr Justice Feargus Flood, which concluded Mr Burke had received of corrupt payments totalling at least £250,000 in the 1980s.

During evidence at Dublin Castle, Mr Burke was forced to admit he had broken exchange control legislation through his use of several offshore bank accounts in the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

Ironically, the legislation setting up the tax amnesty was introduced by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern a decade ago in his role as Finance Minister. Mr Ahern went on to complain, following Mr Burke's resignation in 1997, that "an honourable man" had been hounded from office.

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