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Ansbacher – cover-up upon cover-up.

By Frank Connolly.

The controversy over the naming in the Dáil by Mary Lou McDonald of several former politicians in connection with offshore accounts continues to rumble on. The Sinn Féin deputy leader has rejected a finding by the Oireachtas Committee of Procedure and Privileges (CPP) that she abused her parliamentary privilege when she named the politicians, including former ministers, in the Dáil on 3rd December last. She has also asked for the legal advice given to the Committee on which its finding of abuse of privilege was based.

Despite attempts by the political establishment, aided by the usually compliant voices in the mainstream media, to close down the controversy, and the loud legal threats emanating from some of the former ministers named in the House, the issue has not gone away.

Revenue Commissioner, Josephine Feehily, has told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that her officials had fully investigated the allegations contained in the dossier prepared by authorised officer, Gerard Ryan. Former politicians allegedly used Ansbacher/Cayman Island accounts managed by accountant Des Traynor and after his death, by Padraig Colleary – from the 1970s to the mid 1990s.

Feehily, who has since been appointed to head the new independent policing authority, told the PAC that she was satisfied the matter had been dealt with but could not comment on individual tax investigations. Her response does not rule out the prospect that for all their forceful denials some of the individuals named did settle outstanding revenue issues arising from offshore accounts.

What also emerges from correspondence between McDonald and the CPP over recent months is that Ryan is supported in his contentions by “two senior colleagues, both forensic accountants”.

In a letter to the CPP in February last, McDonald strongly defended her action in naming the former politicians including a number of former Fianna Fáil ministers and one Fine Gael minister; and claimed she did so after she received advice from a parliamentary legal advisor to the effect that the only forum where she could raise the serious allegations of tax evasion was on the floor of the Dáil. Previously, the PAC had been advised that it could not investigate the allegations set out in a detailed dossier prepared by Ryan (much of which was published in Village in a recent edition).

She said Ryan was “a senior civil servant who had been appointed as the authorised investigating officer into allegations of tax evasion and Ansbacher accounts by a previous Government. His professional competence as a forensic accountant is not in question. He made his disclosure in accordance with the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. I believe that this disclosure is made in good faith and in the public interest. His allegations are documented and are backed up by two senior colleagues, both also forensic accountants”.

One of these is senior counsel John Hennessy who was retained by the Department of Jobs Enterprise and Innovation to assist and advise Gerard Ryan. The other officer has not been publicly identified.

McDonald also described in her lengthy submission how a significant claim by Ryan, that the current Minister in the department, Richard Bruton, had sat for two years on a detailed witness statement the authorised officer had prepared and only released it to the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation when the controversy broke in November 2014.

“For my part I made no assertion of wrongdoing against any individual”, McDonald wrote. “I merely referred to those allegations made – and subsequently stood over – by the whistleblower. In doing so, I very consciously and specifically refrained from offering an opinion on the veracity of the allegations, and moreover I did not assert that they were true. It is in the public interest that these allegations of tax evasion and political obstruction be publicly stated and investigated”.

In response to her letter the CPP informed the deputy that her Dáil remarks were “in the nature of being defamatory” and “prima facie an abuse of privilege” and asked her to “make a personal explanation to the House: in effect to withdraw the utterances without qualification”, failing which the committee would recommend that she be reprimanded. Unsurprisingly, McDonald did not accept this finding and is still awaiting a response to her request for the legal advice given to the CPP to support it as well as the minutes of all relevant meetings where the matter was discussed.

The CPP also released copies of letters from the former politicians who claimed that they had been defamed by McDonald’s remarks in the Dáil and from former Tanaiste and PD leader, Mary Harney, who denied the “untrue and defamatory” allegation that she had terminated Ryan’s investigation when it threw up the name of a prominent politician associated with her.

Harney first appointed Ryan as an authorised officer to investigate the tax evasion scheme operated by Guinness & Mahon and its subsidiary, Ansbacher (Cayman), in 1998. In July 1999 the High Court, at her request, appointed inspectors to investigate the Irish business of Ansbacher (Cayman). The investigation was headed up by the late Declan Costello, former TD, Attorney General and President of the High Court, until he resigned for health reasons in 2000. It found that Guinness & Mahon (Ireland) Ltd. and its former managing director, Des Traynor had promoted a scheme of tax evasion in Ireland through offshore trusts and that Ansbacher (Cayman) Ltd had operated as an unlicensed bank in this country (including from the offices of Cement Roadstone Holdings in Fitzwilliam Square in Dublin for many years).

In 2003, Ryan discovered that Costello had held a deposit account in Guinness & Mahon from 1976 to 1978 containing £15,000 which was managed by Traynor. When contacted by Ryan, Costello denied ever having such an account or having dealt with Traynor.  Ryan claimed that the High Court investigation was compromised by what he described in the dossier circulated last year as Costello’s “major conflict of interest”.

In June 2004, four months after Ryan informed Minister Harney that he had uncovered evidence that a close associate of hers had an Ansbacher (Cayman) account his investigation was closed down and his request to complete it was refused. Her successor, Micheál Martin, also refused a similar request in early 2005. In July of that year Ryan told Martin that a “huge effort was made by certain persons” to ensure that evidence of the Cayman Island accounts held by senior Fianna Fáil TDs never came to light. Martin directed Ryan to name those persons, provide details of when and how each made a huge effort to ensure that the evidence never came to light and to substantiate this in writing to him.

In November 2003, a 763-page report was delivered to the minister having been approved for release by John Hennessy SC. It was forwarded to the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, the Revenue Commissioners and the Moriarty and Mahon tribunals. Only the Revenue Commissioners met Ryan to discuss its contents. A later report providing details of what happened to the accounts of the Fianna Fáil TDs in 1992 was sent to another minister, Batt O’Keeffe, in November 2010 and he passed it on to the same agencies, again with no result.  In March 2011, the new minister, Richard Bruton, also failed to reply to a letter from Ryan requesting a meeting to discuss the Cayman accounts while the Attorney General Maire Whelan also neglected to respond to similar correspondence.

“The fact that this evidence has been with these authorities for at least 8 years and no progress has been made in its investigation amounts to a cover up of the evidence of wrongdoing. It is in the public interest that the wrongdoing associated with the senior Fianna Fáil TDs’ (and at least one Fine Gael minister’s) very secret Ansbacher accounts be properly investigated”, Ryan has argued in his submissions.

It is worth waiting for his next move given that his attempt to bring his dossier of sensational claims to the PAC has been closed down and that the effort by Mary Lou McDonald to reveal some of its spicier details has also been stifled by her parliamentary colleagues.

The Taoiseach has said that it is up to the Garda fraud unit to decide on the next course of action but this may not be the end of the matter as far as the Dáil and the PAC are concerned notwithstanding the diligent efforts of her parliamentary colleagues to prevent Mary Lou McDonald or others from adding to the spicy details already in the public arena.

Mary Harney: couldn't deliver CRH investigations
Mary Harney: couldn’t deliver CRH investigations

In February 2000, enterprise minister, Mary Harney, met with members of the ‘The Quarry and Concrete Family Alliance” which was pursuing complaints over the abuse of its monopoly power by one of Ireland’s biggest companies, Cement Roadstone Holdings.

She assured them that the Competition Authority and the Director of the Office of Corporate Enforcement, Paul Appleby, would examine CRH and its behaviour. She suggested they also make a submission to the Moriarty Tribunal about the circumstances surrounding the controversial acquisition by CRH of a large quarry at Glen Ding in county Wicklow in 1991.

Charles Haughey’s accountant, Des Traynor, was on the board of CRH as far back as 1969 and his father-in-law and former Taoiseach, Sean Lemass, was a former chairman of the company.

No investigation by either of the agencies she suggested ensued following the meeting with Harney while the Moriarty tribunal also declined to investigate Glen Ding. In 2004, Harney agreed to meet the Family Alliance again but cancelled the arrangement without explanation.

Des Traynor, Charlie Haughey’s bagman, ran the Ansbacher accounts and was chairman of CRH.