Wednesday 22 October 2014

Revenue not aware of 'gifts' when issuing Ahern with cert

Senan Molony Deputy Political Editor

Published 02/01/2008 | 00:00

TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern obtained a tax clearance cert in 2002 at a time when the Revenue Commissioners were apparently unaware of his receipt of various "dig-outs", "gifts" and "loans".

Last night pressure intensified on Mr Ahern as the main Opposition party insisted that the Taoiseach was not in a position to declare himself tax compliant without having disclosed all his unorthodox dealings to the Revenue.

Mr Ahern made a personal statutory declaration that he was tax compliant in order to obtain the tax certificate in accordance with ethics legislation introduced the previous year.

Whip-rounds

But it now seems he had not disclosed the existence of what he claims were whip-rounds organised on his behalf and without his knowledge in Dublin, Manchester and Dublin again in 1993/94.

The Revenue has recently written to Mr Ahern saying it has no record of his seeking to clarify his liability or otherwise arising from donations, despite the Taoiseach declaring on television that he had been in discussion with "the tax authorities".

A leaked letter, sent to the Revenue Commissioners by Mr Ahern's accountant Des Peelo, is said to argue that Mr Ahern did not mean to refer to "the tax authorities" on television but instead meant "authorities on tax", being private individuals who could give him advice.

But a Fine Gael spokesman last night said Mr Ahern could not rely on the opinion of third parties as to whether he owed money to the Revenue Commissioners.

The Taoiseach, since September 2006, has made a substantial "payment on account" to the Revenue Commissioners in respect of possible unpaid tax, penalties and interest relating to monies lodged to his benefit in the mid-1990s.

In an RTE News TV interview in September 2006, Mr Ahern declared: "I know the tax law. I'm an accountant".

It is a criminal offence to falsely obtained a tax clearance cert, carrying a penalty of five years imprisonment or an unlimited fine.

Former Fianna Fail TD Michael Collins was last year handed a suspended sentence after being convicted of making a false declaration leading to the issue of a tax clearance certificate, also in 2002.

Mr Ahern made a statutory declaration in 2002, but Fine Gael said last night that at best he could only have had "an opinion" on the matter, while the Revenue were at all times the final arbiters of whether there was tax exposure.

Party spokesman on the tribunals Senator Eugene Regan said: "Ignorance is no defence of the law. We are now at a stage where the Taoiseach appears to have misled the Revenue Commissioners and the Standards in Public Office Commission, as well as the Dail and the electorate."

Ethics

Ethics legislation was in place in 2002 that required all TDs to produce tax clearance certs to the Standards in Public Office Commission after their election to Dail Eireann.

If the Revenue Commissioners are correct in their correspondence with the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern may have obtained one solely on his own belief that he was tax compliant.

A spokesman for Fianna Fail said last night: "Every individual should be allowed to conduct their tax affairs with the Revenue in private".

But Fine Gael said the Taoiseach's recent payment on account to the Revenue, in case of liabilities arising from 1993-94, showed that he could not have known in 2002 that he was fully tax compliant.

Mr Ahern still has several weeks before a deadline on the production of a tax clearance cert in respect of last year's General Election.

His party was making no comment on this issue last night.

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