Ahern can’t recall why he withdrew IR£50,000

TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern yesterday gave the Mahon Planning Tribunal three different reasons for withdrawing IR£50,000 in cash from a bank account.

Judge Mary Faherty said the Taoiseach was giving different reasons from those he gave in evidence last week, reasons which were “like polar opposites”.

The tribunal heard the money was lodged to an account in the name of Mr Ahern’s former partner Celia Larkin in December 1994. It was withdrawn the following month and given back to him in cash.

Mr Ahern said the withdrawal was “no big deal” and took place around the time Fianna Fáil had been “chucked out of government, very unceremoniously” and his own professional and private circumstances had changed.

The money, he explained, was then kept in cash in his safe at his constituency office, in St Luke’s, Drumcondra.

Originally, Mr Ahern said the withdrawal was intended to help fit out the house in Drumcondra he was considering renting from Manchester businessman and personal friend Michael Wall.

Earlier, Mr Ahern rejected tribunal counsel claims he had failed to comply with a legal order to disclose all banking records relevant to the inquiry’s investigations.

The Taoiseach declared: “I wasn’t hiding anything. Any questions that ever came up I answered them.”

It emerged yesterday that Mr Ahern only told the tribunal, through his solicitor, in February this year that Mr Wall’s money was transferred into Ms Larkin’s account.

The Taoiseach did not mention his role in the receipt, benefit or the lodgement of the money in any documents supplied to the tribunal.

Despite sustained questioning yesterday, Mr Ahern could not recall how or where he purchased the stg£30,000 to return to Mr Wall in the event the refurbishment of the Beresford Avenue house Wall intended purchasing did not go ahead.

While he said he was “clear” he purchased the stg£30,000 at some point in 1995, the Taoiseach added: “My inquiries to ascertain precisely when and where this occurred are ongoing.”

Mr Ahern continued: “I am now being asked to remember precise details of transactions and the precise amount of foreign currency involved in these transactions approximately 13 years after the event. Quite frankly, I cannot remember the details at this remove.

“These transactions took place at a time of particular personal turmoil and upset for me and at a time when I was simultaneously attempting to discharge onerous public and party duties.”

Answering tribunal lawyer Des O’Neill SC, Mr Ahern repeatedly said he could not remember whether he purchased the sterling in one lump or instalments, or if somebody else had done so on his behalf.

Offering possibilities for withdrawing the money, the Taoiseach said the urgency of finding a house had changed as he had not been elected taoiseach, as expected in December 1994. Instead, he found himself travelling around the country to rebuild the party.

Mr Ahern also suggested a reason he took out the cash was to make it available for Ms Larkin’s use while he was travelling around the country.

However, Mr O’Neill questioned how Ms Larkin could access the money if at the time it was locked away in a safe at St Luke’s.

Mr O’Neill said it seemed a lot more inconvenient for the money to be locked in Mr Ahern’s safe than to be in the bank where Ms Larkin could access it.

Mr Ahern denied it had proved to be an impediment, as when Ms Larkin was required to pay bills or get drafts he had given her the cash.

Mr Ahern said in April 1995 he decided to go ahead with renting the Wall property, eventually buying it in 1997. Mr Ahern rejected the notion that the money given by Mr Wall in 1995 was a “contribution”.

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