Secretary admits sterling lodgments

AFTER admitting she lodged sterling on behalf of the Taoiseach, his former constituency office secretary Gráinne Carruth broke down in the Mahon Tribunal witness box yesterday.

“I just want to go home,” pleaded the mother of three, who had been employed in Bertie Ahern’s Dublin Central constituency office from 1987 to 1999, as she came under relentless questioning.

Earlier, when she insisted she did not remember making the lodgments for Mr Ahern during a seven-month period in 1994, she was warned it is a criminal offence to lie to the tribunal.

Tribunal lawyer Des O’Neill SC told her that to lie to or obstruct the tribunal is an offence punishable with a fine of up to €300,000 and/or two years’ imprisonment.

She had been advised by tribunal chairman Judge Alan Mahon after her stint in the witness box on Wednesday to reconsider her testament overnight.

Replying to her solicitor Hugh J Millar, Ms Carruth said she had told the truth in her evidence to the tribunal on December 18 last, and again on Wednesday, and yesterday.

“Have you purposely misled this tribunal at all?” asked Mr Millar.

“No,” she replied.

Bank documents uncovered by the tribunal show stg£15,500 in cash was exchanged and the Irish pound equivalent lodged to Mr Ahern’s building society personal account and those of his daughters, Cecelia and Georgina, spanning March and October 1994.

Mr Ahern has insisted in his testimony that the money lodged to the accounts came out of his accumulated salary cheques.

In her earlier evidence, Ms Carruth had denied she ever handled sterling on Mr Ahern’s behalf or lodged any money to his account in the Drumcondra branch of the Irish Permanent Building Society (IPBS).

Yesterday she accepted “on the balance of probability” she lodged sterling after seeing documentation relating to 1994, but said she did not remember it.

Counsel asked why she had not contacted Mr Ahern the moment she received documentation from the tribunal recently — showing she had been involved in sterling lodgments on his behalf — to ask him what was the basis or the background to this documentation.

Ms Carruth replied: “Because my first priority was to protect... to get my children sorted and then with his schedule he was away or that — so I never thought, I never thought of it.”

Pressed why she did not contact Mr Ahern, she replied: “Because I’m hurt. And I’m upset.”

Asked to say what was upsetting her about her evidence before the tribunal that day, she said: “Because it’s taking me from my family and that’s why I’m upset.”

Questioned if there was another reason, Ms Carruth replied in a barely audible voice: “I just want to go home.”

After a short break to allow Ms Carruth compose herself, she was quizzed about her three visits to the IPBS branch in March, May and October 1994.

Mr O’Neill then asked if it was still her position that her evidence on the transactions on the three dates “remains a matter upon which you have no recollection”. Ms Carruth said: “Yes.”

It followed from that, said Mr O’Neill, she had forgotten that on March 9, 1994, that Mr Ahern “passed you £6,000 in sterling that day, isn’t that so? You have forgotten about that?”

Mr Carruth replied: “I have no memories of sterling.”

She agreed she had either forgotten or could not remember about going to the IPBS and conducting three separate sterling transactions on the three dates, lodging the Irish pound equivalents to the three Ahern accounts and going back to Mr Ahern and confirming she had carried out his instructions.

Finally, Mr O’Neill asked: “Do you believe that to be credible, Ms Carruth? Can that possibly be true?

She answered: “I can’t remember it. I just can’t remember it.”

Replying to Judge Mahon, Ms Carruth agreed she would give whatever paperwork she got in the bank to Mr Ahern on her return to the office, or would leave it for him in his drawer.

She added she had “no memory” of getting small pieces of paper, receipts or till rolls but “I must have. I must have because the sterling is there, so I must have received a till or a roll receipt”.

Judge Mary Faherty noted from the documents the tribunal had seen that it would appear Ms Carruth had conducted as many transactions into Mr Ahern’s Irish Permanent account as into the accounts for Cecelia and Georgina.

Pressed by Judge Faherty how she could have no recollection of Mr Ahern’s account, the witness replied she didn’t remember it. “I always remember just the girls.”

Judge Faherty said in private interview Ms Carruth had told the tribunal the lodgments she made into the girls’ accounts were IR£200 or IR£300 — when the evidence showed the lodgments to be substantially more — it was IR£1,028 on March 9 and IR£1,000 for each girl on May 9, 1994.

“I accept that,” said Ms Carruth. “I accept everything.”

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