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Publish or … (Editorial December)

In the following pages Village publishes the Ansbacher dossier which ‘Authorised Officer’ Gerard Ryan has been attempting to submit to the Public Accounts Committee. We print it because it seems to us there has been a whitewash to prevent investigation of its mostly tightly documented allegations of widespread offshore untaxed bank accounts being held by the political ascendancy.
It’s time  the role of lawyers, toffs, prosecutory authorities and a range of political parties – and their grandees – in the debasement of Irish society, was recognised. It’s been all too convenient to load all the blame on the buccaneers in Fianna Fáil, but they were supported by the professional establishment and the local gombeens of international finance. The Ryan dossier paints a picture which its compiler clearly feels extends to the contemporary.
Most of the substance is printed in Village, though it has been necessary to redact a lot. A few tracts have been edited out, and the appendices omitted, for reasons of space.
In publishing, we are confident that we have avoided defaming anyone and have attempted to be fair to all, alive or dead. In this context we note that Mary Harney has claimed that she closed down Ryan’s investigation only after it got bogged down and only to ensure that it was not waylaid after she left office. “I made it clear, regardless of who might have been involved, it had to be investigated correctly and thoroughly”, she has said, adding that departmental records would prove this, that the bonuses offered were entirely bona fide and that she did not direct that letters drafted by Ryan not be sent to Des O’Malley, Ray Burke and Liam Lawlor. Des O’Malley has said he opened a Guinness and Mahon account only as a blind trust to ensure his business affairs were handled at arm’s length while he was a Minister. The family of Declan Costello has asserted that he opened his (onshore) account because the main banks were on strike at the time (1976), and he needed to bank a recent inheritance. The transactions appendixed to the dossier are certainly compellingly consistent with this. The Moriarty and Mahon Tribunals are no doubt unimpeachable.
Village is well aware that it is illegal under s21 of the 1990 Companies Act to publish or disclose any  information, book or document relating to a body obtained by an authorised officer under the Act. We have therefore removed ‘information’ relating to it. Happily moreover, Mr Ryan and other media have beaten us to Ansbacher. There is no difference in law between publishing the dossier and publishing extracts or summaries of it, if they relate to Ansbacher.
So the Irish Times has reported that Ryan “had discovered in 2003 records of a deposit account in Guinness and Mahon in the name of Declan Costello…Mr Ryan suggested in the dossier that Mr Costello had had “a major undisclosed conflict of interest” while he led the High Court investigation into the company”.
The Irish Independent reported that the Ryan dossier claims:
• “Declan Costello held an account with Guinness & Mahon bank, which was at the centre of the offshore tax evasion scandal.
• Former Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael ministers held Ansbacher accounts, which were not revealed by an investigation into the offshore tax evasion scheme.
• The Moriarty Tribunal did not properly investigate Ansbacher – a state of affairs that undermines the integrity of the tribunal and the reliability of its findings.
• Des Traynor was the accountant who set up offshore Ansbacher accounts, allowing hundreds of well-heeled individuals to evade tax.
“Mr Declan Costello had a major conflict of interest”.
And the Sunday Times has printed allegations of a “cover up”; and named Helen Downes as being in charge of updating the ‘black briefcase files’ where “the names of the Cayman account holders were kept in a separate safe from the lists of their ‘very substantial’ account balances, to avoid any chance of the senior politicians being identified”.
Some of the dossier appears unfair and we have eliminated it.
Unlike many media we have not unfairly reiterated the names of alleged Cayman account holders that have entered the public domain  – as they were received by the Authorised Officer as mere hearsay from a junior employee in Ansbacher. Not, in any event, that all Cayman account holders failed to pay tax.
Furthermore we believe the Authorised Officer makes some inferences about Costello and O’Malley that are not justified by the evidence adduced in the rest of the dossier. Nor does he prove his allegations that the Moriarty and perhaps Mahon tribunals were compromised in their lack of zeal in pursuit of Ansbacher, though Village has always questioned the extent to which the tribunal  reports managed to probe and explicate all the allegations presented to them, even if in the end the tribunal reports were afforded a blind imprimatur by a gormless press. The tribunals were inert in the absence of investigatory powers, with Mahon in particular relying too much on unreliably dysfunctional whistleblowers, and ultimately toppling too few among the still powerful.
It is necessary also to be fair to the prosecutors: one of the problems for authorities is that the investigations came too late and were hampered by the blanket immunities conferred by a cynical tax amnesty in 1993, though Revenue still expects to extract €250m from recalcitrants. The gardai did in fact investigate  ‘Ansbacher’ but not the secret ‘black briefcase’ with its dozens of allegedly dodgy accounts. The fraud squad was advised such an investigation would be barred under the terms of Bertie Ahern’s 1997 Taxes Consolidation Act which prohibits them or the Revenue prosecuting offences more than ten-years old; and the DPP decided not to prosecute the more general claims of Ryan, following submission of a Garda file.
The Ryan dossier is creditable but it remains unresolved. Uniquely we have published it – in the hope this might help this process. We have published but we have been careful and fair. We do not expect to be damned. •