The Mahon Tribunal ruled on Thursday that former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern received $276,000 in secret payments while in office. According to the findings, Ahern repeatedly lied about the secret payments he received while under oath. Ahern, however, was not found guilty of corruption after it couldn’t be proven that he gave favors to any of his cash donors when he was finance minister in the 1990s.
Bloomberg Businessweek reports on The Mahon Tribunal and the events that led to the findings on Ahern. While Ahern narrowly escaped being found guilty, bnot everyone was as lucky.
The Tribunal did find former Cabinet minister and EU commissioner Padraig Flynn guilty of corruption via soliciting payments from property developers for personal use. In addition, the Tribunal found 11 past and 11 present members of local councils guilty of the same offense.
Justice Alan Mahon led three other judges to deliver the final findings of The Mahon Tribunal.
Current Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that the report “clearly sets out corrupt practices among a number of politicians.” While Kenny did not comment on whether he considered Ahern to be one of those politicians, he did say that Ahern faltered in upholding the integrity of the Taoiseach’s role through "a litany of unacceptable statements" to the judges.
A probe into Ahern’s personal finances was triggered by allegation from Tom Gilmartin, an Irish property developer. Gilmartin asserted that a rival developer, Owen O'Gallaghan, paid Ahern two bribes in 1989 and 1992 totaling more than $130,000.
Of the allegation against him, Ahern said “On this key substantive point there is no evidence whatsoever to show I received anything from Mr. O'Callaghan, nor could there be because, put simply, this never happened."
The final report issued by The Mahon Tribunal was released on Thursday and was met with so much interest that it went on to crash the investigators’ website.The final report came to be a staggering 3,211-pages and reportedly cost the Irish taxpayers more than $260 million.
“The probe, which has published four previous reports on other scandals, has collected 60,000 pages of testimony from approximately 600 witnesses,” reports Bloomberg Business Week.
Through their investigations, the judges ultimately found that “Much of the explanation provided by Mr. Ahern as to the source of the substantial funds identified and inquired into in the course of the tribunal's public hearings was deemed by the tribunal to be untrue.”
The report went on to say that Ahern's government, which founded the original fact-finding tribunal in 1997, launched "extraordinary and unprecedented" attacks on their work in a bid to stop it once the target of their investigation became Ahern himself.
Ahern responded to the final report by commenting that "I am disappointed that the tribunal has said that I failed to give a truthful account.... I never took a bribe or corrupt payment. I never made a political decision in return for a payment. I hid nothing."
In the wake of the Tribunal’s findings, Ahern’s party Fianna Fail is stepping away from giving the now shamed former Taoiseach their support. Following a late night party meeting with other Fianna Fail members, leader Micheal Martin announced that he intended to expel Ahern from party membership, with the official decision coming on March 30th.
"The receipt by a senior office holder of large amounts of money which a sworn tribunal has held is of unclear origins, and the failure to give any credible explanation, requires an unequivocal response," said Martin, who served under Ahern in three Cabinet posts.
Martin added that Ahern’s reported falsities under oath "betrayed the trust placed in him by this country and this party."
Ahern admitted over his 15 days of testimony in 2007 to “keeping most of the money in personal safes at his office and home from 1992 to 1994; failing to keep a personal bank account during much of the time under investigation; and paying no tax on any of it until the investigators uncovered its existence,” reports Bloomberg Businessweek.
Ahern also testified that all undocumented payments were unsolicited gifts, and that identical payments from within Ireland were loans.Tax law at the time in Ireland didn’t require gifts from overseas and domestic loans to be taxed.
Ahern made no repayments on the 1993 "loans" until the investigators discovered fourteen years later in 2007. Ultimately, Ahern negotiated a tax settlement for the unearthed funds.
Of funds that were deposited into the accounts into his then-girlfriend Celia Larkin and his two daughters’ bank accounts, Ahern claimed he had won the money betting on horses. Judges dismissed his explanation.
In addition, they also found untrue Ahern and several of his business partners explanation that a pub fundraiser had been held to raise money for Ahern’s campaign.
The judges did, however, accept the testimony of stockbroker Padraic O'Connor, who said he “barely knew Ahern and had been asked by Fianna Fail to make a $8,300 political donation in a company check for Ahern's benefit, which he did.”
Gerry Howlin, Ahern’s former special adviser in government, described the Tribunal’s findings as "far worse than anything I expected or believed possible."
"He told me he was telling the truth," Howlin said. "His narrative is not believed, and it is damning and it is serious. ... His reputation has been very seriously damaged."