Bertie Ahern at the Tribunal Part 1

January 29, 2008 at 2:07 am 5 comments

Ahern Laughing

Recent opinion polls show that most Irish people do not believe that our Prime Minister has given a full account of his finances, while being questioned under oath at a Tribunal set up by our national Parliament. This is, or at least should be, a very serious issue in a normally functioning democracy. Over the next while, I will summarise and comment on Bertie Ahern’s evidence to the Tribunal.

This first post covers the evidence that Mr Ahern gave on the morning of his first day of questioning, on the 13th of September 2007. It shows that, from the beginning of his evidence, Mr Ahern was delaying the work of the Tribunal on the day itself.

It also shows that, despite claiming publicly that he was fully co-operating with the Tribunal, Mr Ahern had privately been seeking to limit its enquiries, and that by March 2006 he had still not given the Tribunal information that it had first started looking for in October 2004.

Here are the details. >>>

1. Mr Ahern makes an opening statement

Mr Ahern started off by asking to make a personal statement. The Tribunal pointed out that that was not the usual practice, but allowed him to make the statement anyway. In his statement, Ahern rejected the allegations, made by Mr Gilmartin, that Mr O’Callaghan had given him (Ahern) money. He complained that leaked documents from the Tribunal had damaged him. He said that he only wanted to be treated like other witnesses, or any citizen, and that he sought no preferences or demanded no privileges. He then addressed some of the lodgments that the Tribunal was questioning him about.

  • He said that he had never received 45,000 US dollars, and therefore did not lodge this amount in December 1994. He said that his banking expert, Mr Paddy Strong, had checked all of the banking records and had confirmed to him that the evidence did not substantiate a 45,000 US dollar amount. He said that the Tribunal had reached that figure by applying wrong and notional exchange rates. He said that this lodgement was a combination of Sterling and Punts given to him by Michael Wall.
  • He said that he did not lodge a round sum of 25,000 UK pounds in October 1994. He said that this amount was a combination of about 8000 UK pounds but it got from businessmen in Manchester and about 16,500 Irish Punts that he got from some personal friends. He said that it only equates to 25,000 UK pounds if you applied the wrong AIB exchange rates for the day in question. He said that this would mean that AIB staff would have given the Minister for Finance in a worse exchange rate than he should have got.
  • He said that the money had been in his safe, and may have been added to or subtracted from, before it was lodged. He said that his banking expert, Mr Paddy Strong, had told him that there were a number of combinations of UK pounds and Irish punts that would equate to the amount lodged. As an aside, he said that he had repaid with interest the money given to them by his personal friends, and that “each of my friends has acknowledged in writing receipt of these checks, and each of these friends have donated the moneys so returned to them to a charity associated with my wife.”
  • He said that the 30,000 UK pounds that he lodged in 1995 was his own money that he had withdrawn from his account in Irish Punts, converted to UK pounds and then lodged again. He said that he had been given money by Michael Wall, his future landlord, to do works on a house that he was going to rent from Mr Wall. He said that he had then changed his mind about this house, and had started to look at other houses instead. He therefore withdrew the money that Mr Wall had given to him, and converted it to UK pounds with the intention of giving it back to Mr Wall. Then, after Mr Wall had an accident, he visited Mr Wall in Manchester and the changed his mind again. He was now going to go ahead with the original deal with Mr Wall, so he re-lodged the 30,000 UK pounds back into his own account, in two different transactions.

2. Mr O’Neill outlines why Mr Ahern is being questioned

Mr O’Neill, on behalf of the Tribunal, then outlined why Mr Ahern was being questioned.

Mr Tom Gilmartin had told the Tribunal that a property developer, Mr Owen O’Callaghan, had paid Mr Ahern sums of 50,000 pounds in 1989, and 30,000 pounds sometime between 1989 and 1992 (and that the 30,000 pounds was to pay Mr Ahern for his help in blocking Green Properties PLC from getting special tax designation for a development in Blanchardstown). The Tribunal had then enquired into the substance of that allegation, and those enquiries had now led to Mr Ahern being questioned about specific lodgments into his bank accounts.

Mr O’Neill said that they would begin with four specific lodgments that involved foreign exchange transactions, as follows:

  • A lodgement on the 11th of October 1994, amounting to 24,838.49 pounds, to Mr Ahern’s account.
  • A lodgement on the 5th of December 1994, amounting to 28,772.90 pounds, to an account opened in the name of Miss Celia Larkin.
  • A lodgement on the 15th of June 1995, of the sum of 11,743.74 pounds, to Mr Ahern’s account.
  • A lodgement on the 1st of December 1995, of the sum of 19,142.92 pounds, to Mr Ahern’s account.

He said that they would also be examining a fifth foreign exchange transaction:

  • The purchase by Mr Ahern of 30,000 UK pounds sometime between the 19th of January 1995 and the 15th of June 1995.

He envisaged that this questioning would take one or two days, and he said that, at a later stage, Mr Ahern would also be questioned about other lodgments that did not have a foreign exchange element to them.

3. Commentary: Mr Ahern is delaying the Tribunal

From the beginning of his evidence, it was clear that Mr Ahern was delaying the work of the Tribunal, in two ways:

Firstly, Mr Ahern’s opening statement contained new information that was different from the information that he had given to the Tribunal during a private interview five months previously in April. It also contained new information that had not appeared in a lengthy press statement that Mr Ahern had issued four months previously in May. The chairman pointed out that, because Mr Ahern had not given the Tribunal of any advance notice of this new information, the Tribunal had not had an opportunity to confirm it or check it against information already furnished. Mr Ahern said that he had only finished his statement the previous night.

Secondly, from the very first question, which was merely Mr Ahern being asked to confirm a statement of fact (that Mr Gilmartin had told the Tribunal that Mr O’Callaghan had given Mr Ahern 50,000 pounds), Mr Ahern answered that Mr Gilmartin had made several allegations about him.

Mr O’Neill replied to Mr Ahern as follows: “It may assist with the conduct of the enquiry and the duration of the enquiry if, in so far as it is possible to do so, you can address the questions that I put to you and answer those questions. I don’t want to cut short your delivery, but if you are being asked a specific question, if it is capable of a specific response, the questioning of you will be certainly advanced or will certainly take a lesser period of time than if we had to canvass side issues.”

Despite this, as the questioning continued, Mr Ahern continued to introduce matters that he was not being questioned about, such as allegations that he had money in accounts in Cork and in Lichtenstein, that he had €15 million in the Bank of Ireland in Jersey and that he had sent a government Minister to ‘hassle another Minister about something’.

All of this is significant because Mr Ahern, and other government Ministers, have been complaining about the amount of time it is taking the Tribunal to do its job. From the very start of Mr Ahern’s opening day of evidence, it was clear that he himself was delaying the work of the Tribunal.

4. Correspondence between the Tribunal and Mr Ahern

Mr O’Neill then outlined correspondence between the Tribunal and Mr Ahern (all conducted via Mr Ahern’s solicitor) between 2004 and 2006.

Correspondence in 2004

  • In October 2004, the Tribunal had written to ask Mr Ahern make a statement to the Tribunal about the allegation made by Tom Gilmartin, and to say that the Tribunal might be asking Mr Ahern for discovery of certain documents relating to this matter, covering the years 1988 to 1995.
  • Mr Ahern had replied, via his solicitor, saying that he would make a statement rejecting the allegation, and that he had no problem in principle with making discovery of documents, but that he would be asking that any documents should only cover the years 1989 to 1992, and to transactions of 30,000 pounds or more.
  • In November 2004, the Tribunal had written again to Mr Ahern, this time making an order for discovery of documents. The timescale 1988 to 1995, and not the shorter period that Mr Ahern had requested. The Tribunal said that, in the first instance, Mr Ahern could limit production of documents to transactions of 20,000 pounds or more. He had to produce the documents by the 11th of January 2005.

Correspondence in 2005

  • On the day before the documents had to be produced, Mr Ahern had sought an extension until the end of January 2005. The Tribunal granted this request. The documents were eventually produced in February 2005
  • In February 2005, having examined the documents produced by Mr Ahern, the Tribunal wrote again saying that it was now also seeking documents relating to transactions of less than 30,000 pounds. Mr Ahern had to produce these documents by 27th of March 2005.
  • As part of the process of discovery, Mr Ahern had to authorise AIB to give the Tribunal information about his bank transactions. In October 2005, AIB sent this information to both Mr Ahern and the Tribunal. It was just basic raw information; dates and amounts of money.
  • In October 2005, the Tribunal wrote again to Mr Ahern seeking further details about specific transactions, and about his income and expenditure during the period in question. The Tribunal said that the specific purpose for seeking this information was to try to deal with matters in correspondence, so as to shorten the amount of time that would be needed for public questioning. Mr Ahern had to reply to this by the 30th of November 2005.

Correspondence in 2006

  • By March 2006, Mr Ahern had not replied to this request. The Tribunal again wrote to him, extending the date for his reply to 26th of March 2006. The Tribunal sought permission from Mr Ahern to interview AIB staff about his transactions. The Tribunal also asked Mr Ahern to prioritise dealing with five specific queries. These were: (a) a 15,000 pounds cash lodgement to a special savings account on the 30th of December 1993; (b) a 30,000 pounds cash lodgement divided between a special savings account and a current account on 25th of April 1994; (c) 20,000 pounds cash lodgement into an account in the names of his daughters on eighth of August 1994; (d) a transfer of 24,838.49 pounds to an account in AIB on the 11th of October 1994; and (e) a transfer of 19,142.92 to an account in AIB on the 1st of December 1995.
  • (As an aside, although the Tribunal did not know so at the time, Mr Ahern was later to explain these lodgements as follows: (a) was part of the first of two dig-out loans from friends; (b) and (c) was money that he had saved while he had no bank account; (d) was a combination of money he received from Manchester businessman, and the second dig-out loan from friends; and (e) was part of money that he had withdrawn from his own account, converted into sterling, and then re-lodged to his own account.)
  • On the 27th of March 2006, Mr Ahern sent the Tribunal an affidavit of discovery, and the discovered documents, that the Tribunal had first asked for in November 2004.
  • On the 30th of March 2006, the Tribunal wrote again to Mr Ahern, saying that it had examined the documents he had produced, and that he had not given the information that the Tribunal had requested about the five transactions it had asked him to prioritise. Indeed, he had not provided any information about the source of cash deposits or the reasons for them being made.
  • The five priority payments totalled 108,981 pounds, lodged partly a time when he was Minister for Finance.For each of these, the Tribunal asked Mr Ahern to supply: (a) where the money came from; (b) the form in which the money was received; (c) the reason that the money was given to him; (d) the nature of the payment, i.e. was a gift, remuneration, etc; (e) the reason for the lodgement being made in cash; (f) who it was that actually lodged it; and (g) who in the bank received the lodgement.
  • The Tribunal said that, once it got this information, it may be the case that there will be nothing further to investigate. And it again extended the date for Mr Ahern to respond to these queries in writing, this time to the 21st of April 2006. However, the Tribunal concluded that, if it did not have a reply by then, it would have to summon Mr Ahern to a public hearing.

5. Commentary: Mr Ahern has been delaying the Tribunal since 2004

In his initial letters to the Tribunal, Mr Ahern sought to limit discovery of documents to the years 1989 to 1992. It later emerged that, during these years, Mr Ahern did not have a bank account, so there would be very limited documents available. Mr Ahern also sought to limit discovery to transactions of 30,000 pounds or more. It later emerged that, if the Tribunal had accepted these limitations, it would not have discovered any of the transactions that it ended up questioning Mr Ahern about.

Also, the Tribunal had been asking Mr Ahern repeatedly for information from October 2004, and it still had not got that information by March 2006. During this time, the Tribunal had repeatedly told Mr Ahern that the reasons that they were seeking information in writing were (a) to speed up the process of reaching conclusions and (b) to hopefully avoid having to call Mr Ahern to a public hearing. Meanwhile Mr Ahern had been repeatedly telling the media that he was co-operating fully with the Tribunal.

6. Overview

This brings us up to lunchtime on day one of Mr Ahern’s evidence to the Tribunal, which took place on the 13th of September 2007. In my next post, I will look at the evidence given in the afternoon of that day.

See also: Bertie Ahern at the Tribunal Part 2

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Entry filed under: Ireland, News, Politics.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tony  |  January 29, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Thanks for that Michael, I’m already looking forward to your next summary.

    Reply
  • 2. cormac  |  January 31, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Excellent summary. Keep it coming!

    Reply
  • 3. JohnQ  |  February 3, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    Great summary! You’d wonder why the mainstream media can’t sum it up like that.

    Reply
  • 4. citizenjon  |  March 26, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    Nice one, it’s good to have the facts all spread out like this. Cheers. I’m doing a thesis on the tribunal perhaps you”d be interested…

    http://citizenjon2008dublincastle.wordpress.com/

    Reply
  • 5. e Murphy  |  April 5, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    Question: Had bertie an english or foreign or ansbacher a/c? Did he lodge his salary in advance of devaluation of the punt to profit from it possibly? How long was his salary paid in Sterling?

    Reply

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A blog by Michael Nugent

Welcome to my blog about living in the maddest country on earth. Please feel free to leave a comment.

I also write Bionic Bohs, a blog about following Bohemians football club in the 1970s.

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Bionic Bohs

As mentioned above, if you like Irish football and/or cultural nostalgia, I also write Bionic Bohs, a blog about following Bohs in the 1970s.

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