Ahern denies Wall bought house on his behalf

FORMER taoiseach Bertie Ahern has denied any suggestion that he used a Manchester-based businessman Michael Wall as a front to buy his home in Dublin in the mid-1990s.

Mr Ahern also told the Mahon Tribunal yesterday that he was unaware until recently that his friend had left him the house at Beresford Avenue in Drumcondra in a will drawn up in 1996.

However, such an inheritance never arose after Mr Ahern agreed to buy the house from the Mayo-born businessman for £180,000 in 1997.

In his 12th day in the witness box at Dublin Castle, Mr Ahern said he could offer no explanation as to why Mr Wall had made such a gesture.

He told the tribunal he first learned that Mr Wall had prepared a will leaving him the house in Beresford Avenue in 2006.

Mr Ahern said his friend had contacted him wondering if he or his then partner, Celia Larkin, recalled anything about the will: “I told him that neither of us did.”

However, Mr Ahern insisted he would have been “duty bound” to buy the property from Mr Wall’s wife if he had inherited the house in the event of his friend’s death.

“I would not in conscience have been able to accept it. I would have ignored it and went and bought it off his wife,” said Mr Ahern. He stressed that the decision to make the will was made entirely on Mr Wall’s own initiative.

Asked by tribunal barrister Henry Murphy SC if he had any explanation for the will apart from Mr Wall’s “extraordinary generosity”, Mr Ahern said Mr Wall could have found other ways of ensuring he would have a chance to buy the house if he had died: “I can make no sense of it.”

However, Mr Murphy said a possible motive might be that Mr Wall would not want the house to go to his own estate in the event of his death, if he had bought the house on Mr Ahern’s behalf.

“The point is that isn’t what happened,” said Mr Ahern, who accuse the tribunal barrister of implying something strange, given a number of legal professionals were involved in the drafting of the will.

“And I can assure you I bought the house from Mr Wall,” he stressed.

Mr Murphy said it was also strange that Mr Ahern agreed on a three-year lease on the house in the summer of 1997 when he agreed to buy the property a short time later after being elected taoiseach.

Mr Ahern retorted: “Well, it’s as simple as this. It’s politics. You go into an election and it’s a two-way bet you know. You win or you lose. So there is no certainty in it.”

Mr Ahern said he had no explanation for why he told the authors of a book about him that he paid £139,000 for the house — an amount just £1,000 more than Mr Wall had paid for the house in 1995. “I just gave that figure,” said Mr Ahern.

Earlier, Mr Ahern said he had an informal agreement with Mr Wall that he would pay the “market value” for the house at Beresford Avenue and checks were carried out in Drumcondra to find out what similar houses were selling for.

He admitted that he had never been inside the house until refurbishment work finished in the summer of 1995. Mr Ahern said he and Mr Wall had no role in the work on which he estimated he had spent £35,000.

“Celia was getting on with it. So the two of us were spectators. We just left her get on with it,” he remarked.

Mr Murphy observed that £35,000 was still very short of the £50,000 that Mr Ahern had put away in December 1994 towards the house, especially as the first payment wasn’t going to be for another six months.

“Thankfully it was short. I was hoping not to spend £50,000,” Mr Ahern said.

Mr Ahern admitted he was surprised when Mr Wall presented him with a briefcase containing £30,000 at his constituency office, St Luke’s, on December 3, 1994.

Two days later, Ms Larkin opened a bank account at AIB in O’Connell Street with a lodgment of £28,772.90 which she claims were the contents of the briefcase given to her by Mr Ahern. The tribunal has heard evidence that the sum equated to $45,000 using a foreign exchange rate in operation that day.

Mr Ahern told the tribunal that his lack of permanent accommodation was used against him by political opponents when he was considered a possible candidate for leadership of Fianna Fáil in the early 1990s. He lived in an upstairs flat above St Luke’s from 1992 to 1994.

Mr Ahern said his thoughts first turned towards getting a house after his marital separation was completed in November 1993.

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