O’Connell ‘found a top-of-the-range BMW outside his door’

FORMER Health Minister John O’Connell surprisedly found a top-of-the-range BMW car delivered to his door, a gift for helping friends of billionaire Saudi Arabian diplomat Mahmoud Fustok get Irish passports, the Moriarty Tribunal heard yesterday.

Dr O’Connell said: “Mr Fustok sent a new, top of the range BMW car and left the car at my door and when I heard it, I sent it back two days later. Because, I must tell you, I made a rule when I first entered politics I would not accept any political donations or election donations and I fought every election with my own money.”

While travelling in Mr Fustok’s limousine in 1980, Mr Fustok asked him what car he drove and what he thought was the best car. Dr O’Connell then drove a Citroen but said the best car on the road was a BMW. A few months after that, the BMW arrived.

Mr Fustok’s sister was married to the King of Saudi Arabia. Early last month, Mr Fustok was killed in Florida when struck by a car while out jogging.

According to Dr O’Connell, Mr Fustok and his brother Ahmed owned 940 horses.

Owing to ill health, Dr O’Connell resigned from the Dáil in 1993.

He said he suffers from loss of memory and has a hearing problem.

The tribunal is investigating the granting of more than a dozen Irish passports to Lebanese citizens who were sponsored by Dr O’Connell. These people were described in official documents as friends of Mr Fustok.

Dr O’Connell made representations on their behalf to Charles Haughey, who was then Taoiseach.

In 1985, Dr O’Connell explained, Mr Fustok told him he owed Mr Haughey £50,000. As he didn’t know his address, he made out the cheque in Dr O’Connell’s name.

Dr O’Connell contacted Mr Haughey, who advised him to make the cheque payable to cash and lodge it in an account in Guinness Mahon bank.

At the time the Taoiseach’s salary was less than £47,000.

Dr O’Connell described how, five years earlier, Mr Haughey’s daughter Eimear invited himself and Mr Fustok to the Haughey mansion after meeting up at Goffs bloodstock sales. There, an unnamed vet invited Mr Fustok to take shares in a stallion.

Last December, Mr Fustok wrote to the tribunal saying he could not be sure if the £50,000 was for a horse or shares in a stallion. Yesterday, Dr O’Connell said he had spoken on the phone to Mr Fustok two days before his death.

“I couldn’t get an answer to the horse question and even up to the last, up to two days before the man was killed. I could never get that answer and I did ask, many times.

“When I say I never got an answer I mean I took what Mr Fustok said. I think he said a horse at the beginning. When a girl from The Sunday Times asked him was it good, he said ‘not spectacular’.”

Dr O’Connell told tribunal lawyer Jerry Healy SC his relationship with Mr Haughey was peculiar.

“I looked upon him as a friend; he looked upon me maybe as someone who suits his purpose.”

The tribunal adjourned until next Thursday.

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