Solicitor admits being evasive over land

A SOLICITOR admitted yesterday that he had failed to respond to direct questions about the ownership of lands at the centre of planning corruption allegations when initially asked by the Planning Tribunal three years ago.

John Caldwell acknowledged that he had tried to suggest to the tribunal's legal team, in a letter written in September 2000, that he had no beneficial interest in lands at Carrickmines in south Dublin.

Asked about companies which nominally owned the property, Mr Caldwell merely said "the land is held to my order".

Tribunal chairman Judge Alan Mahon yesterday categorised this reply as "a meaningless phrase". Mr Caldwell accepted that he was probably "over-legalistic" in his letter to the tribunal because of concerns of exposing himself to tax.

Over five days in the witness box at Dublin Castle, Mr Caldwell conceded that he has a 50% ownership in the lands using a complex corporate structure involving several offshore companies, although there is no documentation to support this claim.

However, Mr Caldwell's barrister, Ian Finlay, argued that "as a matter of law", Mr Caldwell was entitled to respond that he did not have a beneficial interest in the land.

He pointed out that Mr Caldwell had provided a statement that was far greater in volume than any other witness.

In addition, his client had handed over at least 6,000 documents to the inquiry, while researching another 20,000 pieces of paper. "Significant parts of my personal and business life have come to an end dealing with tribunal matters," said Mr Caldwell.

Asked if it was intention to mislead the tribunal, Mr Caldwell replied: "Absolutely not."

The tribunal concluded its Carrickmines module yesterday after more than 90 days of oral hearings at Dublin Castle.

Meanwhile, the tribunal has decided not to call any representatives of two deceased members of Dublin Co Council Cyril Gallagher and Jack Larkin.

Liam Lawlor is due back before the tribunal today to argue why he should not be liable for the full cost of recent hearings into his role in land dealings in Lucan. He is facing a large legal bill because of the recent ruling that he failed to comply with orders.

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