Taoiseach’s evidence to tribunal delayed

TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern’s testimony will not be heard until the Mahon Tribunal returns in September from its summer break.

The probe into the Taoiseach’s finances arise from Sligo-born developer Tom Gilmartin’s claim that he was told Mr Ahern was given IR£80,000 in return for political favours connected with the Quarryvale lands, now under the tribunal’s spotlight.

Mr Gilmartin alleged Cork-based property developer Owen O’Callaghan bragged about paying Mr Ahern two sums seeking to influence the planning process in the early 1990s. Both Mr O’Callaghan and Mr Ahern deny the allegations.

Mr Ahern’s former partner Celia Larkin is due to testify tomorrow about her role in lodging cash amounts to bank accounts on behalf of herself and Mr Ahern.

Senior banker Philip Murphy agreed at yesterday’s hearing it was “possible” stg£25,000 in notes was lodged by Mr Ahern in one transaction while he was minister for finance in October 1994.

However, Mr Murphy could not explain the precise breakdown of the IR£24,838.49 total, said to have comprised Irish and British currency and lodged to Mr Ahern’s deposit account.

It was put to him it was a mathematical fact this sum could not result from the breakdown of sterling and Irish currencies being put forward.

Pressed to explain why there were pence listed in the total — when the bank did not take in pence in sterling — the witness agreed it didn’t add up.

Mr Ahern, whose evidence has been put back until September 11 at the earliest, has maintained he received a total of stg£8,000 in “unsolicited” cash donations after attending a business dinner in Manchester.

The Taoiseach also insisted the sterling cash, plus IR£16,500 — given as a goodwill loan by four named business people in Ireland — had formed the total then lodged.

Yesterday, tribunal counsel put it to Mr Murphy the IR£24,838.49 lodged was not made up of the exact amount of stg£8,000 and IR£16,500 and the witness agreed this sum was not consistent with large sterling notes being presented — irrespective of whether commission was deducted or not for the transaction.

As a banker of 40 years, he was asked what the chances were of the IR£24,838.49 being stg£25,000, and Mr Murphy said it was “possible”. But he added it could also be “a mixture” of currencies. He didn’t know anyone in the bank who might have taken in that amount in sterling.

In testament last week, Mr Murphy said he had “a memory” of having sterling in one hand and Irish currency in the other.

During a private interview with the tribunal last April, Mr Ahern said he didn’t recall “that particular incident” when asked about his October 11, 1994, lodgment at the AIB Bank’s O’Connell Street branch.

According to Mr Ahern, the cash received in Manchester was in large notes, and he added that “as far as I can recall it was 8,000”.

Mr Murphy said it would be very difficult to establish the breakdown in currencies in the absence of the daily tally rolls used to record transactions. The tally notes for the days under examination no longer exist.

He said without these it would be “speculation” as to the currencies transacted on a particular day.

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