Suspected fraudulent activity at a meat packing unit owned by Larry Goodman was discovered in March 1989 just two months after gardaí had been alerted by the Department of Agriculture that the beef processing group was facing penalties of more than IR£1m for breaches of rules governing EC financial supports for the beef industry.
An investigation by Customs officials into the operation of Anglo Irish Beef Processors between September 1986 and February 1987 found Goodman plants in Cloghran, Co Dublin and Christendom, Co Waterford had made overstatements of the weight of meat which resulted in incorrect declarations being made for EC funding.
At the time, beef processors were entitled to EC financial aid in the form of export refunds to allow high price products compete on lower price world markets with payments of up to IR£2,500 per tonne as well as financial supports for the storage of such goods.
State papers show a senior official has sought an undertaking from Mr Goodman as the chief executive of AIBP in January 1989 that there would be no further false declarations as well as an explanation for such breaches.
However, they also reveal that Harbour Police at Dublin Port uncovered activity at a Goodman-owned facility — Eirfreeze Cold Store — two months later during which 63 carcasses were found to be falsely graded using a fake stamp as well as being classified without the required supervision of a Department of Agriculture inspector.
A secret Garda file showed around 20 men who travelled from Co Louth had arrived at a checkpoint in Dublin Port on March 4, 1989 and claimed they were going to work on containers in a compound run by a road haulage firm.
They asked a security guard at the compound not to tell the Harbour Police that they had gone instead to work in Eirfreeze.
Two Department of Agriculture officials who were called along with gardaí to the site ordered all work on the premises to cease after they discovered freshly stamped ink on the meat.
The file showed gardaí were concerned about “the unsupervised handling of meat operations in the plant by management” as well attempts to conceal the work carried out in the facility by outside staff drafted in on a weekend evening.
A memo prepared on the incident for the Minister for Agriculture, Michael O’Kennedy, noted: “It would appear there was an attempt to upgrade the beef by the unlawful application of what purported to be an official stamp.”
Upgrading of the beef quality could involve commercial misrepresentation of beef to the detriment of the overall trade.
Files reveal four out of six containers owned by the AIBP group which were opened in Dublin Port two days after the incident contained beef with stamps that could not have been applied by Department of Agriculture officials.
One civil servant claimed the Goodman’s group suggestion that it was an entirely commercial matter with no implications for the State overlooked the fact that the country’s classification scheme for meat was in danger of being undermined.
Other documents show, then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey was concerned about making a particular reference to export credit insurance in a proposed speech to the Dáil in April 1989.
A confidential memo noted AIBP had at the time categorically denied allegations that some of its beef exports to Iraq which were insured under the scheme were not of Irish origin as required — a controversy which would eventually lead to the establishment of the Beef Tribunal in 1991.
However, it also observed that the Department of Agriculture had documentation which suggested beef from Northern Ireland had been exported under the scheme.