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Friday 22 August 2014

17 hours in witness box - still no answers

Published 25/09/2007 | 00:00

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SERIOUS questions still hang over Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's versions of five key transactions being investigated by the planning tribunal, despite his 17-hour epic performance in the witness box.

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Mr Ahern's account of how stg£68,000 passed through his hands in little over a year now lies in the hands of the Mahon Tribunal's three judges.

After four days of being grilled by tribunal lawyers, Mr Ahern's marathon testimony finally drew to a close yesterday.

But his final day in the witness box was marked by further discrepancies, memory lapses and contradictions.

And the Taoiseach's troubles are not over yet, as the opposition parties prepare to tackle him over his shifting versions of events when the Dail resumes tomorrow.

Labour's new leader Eamon Gilmore said Mr Ahern's evidence was simply "not credible". And Fine Gael is considering a motion of no confidence in the Taoiseach.

Mr Ahern's claim that he would refute allegations that he received a payment of $45,000 was also undermined, even though the tribunal cannot categorically prove the key lodgment was in dollars either.

In his final day of questioning, Mr Ahern said he:

l "Cannot remember" driving Celia Larkin to the bank to withdraw £50,000 of his money.

l "Gave somebody" cash to change into stg£30,000 for him but cannot remember who or when.

l "Cannot recall" why he paid a bill of almost IR£12,000 for refurbishment of his Drumcondra home to an Irish firm in sterling.

It also emerged that the tribunal may yet rule that Mr Ahern failed to fully disclose details of his financial affairs to the inquiry -- but there is no allegation of that yet.

Tribunal counsel Des O'Neill said that while there was no allegation that the Taoiseach had failed to fully comply with an order for discovery, the tribunal could find that Mr Ahern had not been fully forthcoming in relation to his bank accounts.

The tribunal is investigating five transactions conducted by Mr Ahern, or by people on his behalf, between October 1994 and December 1995.

During this period of just over a year, a total of stg£68,000 went through his bank accounts.

Stg£30,000 of this was from Manchester businessman Michael Wall and was earmarked to pay for renovations to a house which Mr Ahern was to rent.

Mr Ahern also told the tribunal the cost of refurbishing his home in the Beresford estate was paid in both punts and sterling.

However, he said he could not remember why foreign currency was used. Mr Ahern paid the bill of £11,743.74 in two currencies - £10,000 in sterling and £2,000 in punts.

Exiting from the tribunal, Mr Ahern was once again greeted with a mixture of boos and cheers from the crowd outside Dublin Castle.

The Taoiseach paused briefly to tell reporters that he was happy with his performance.

He dismissed opinion polls which showed that people did not believe the account he had given to the Mahon Tribunal.

"I don't think they did that. I think they said the party was in very good order and we're in good order," he said.

But Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore was unconvinced by Mr Ahern's four days of evidence.

He said Mr Ahern's "convoluted accounts" remained incredible.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said he would not comment until he had read through the entire transcript of the Taoiseach's day of evidence. A party spokesman said Fine Gael would review the Taoiseach's evidence then decide how best he could be held accountable to the Dail.

The spokesman said all options would be considered, "including a motion of no confidence".

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