Saturday 25 October 2014

Gene Kerrigan: Judges didn't cop out in report -- but the rest of us did

We have a broken country after readily accepting the cover stories of the powerful

Published 25/03/2012 | 05:00

Some of us were half-expecting a cop-out, but Judges Alan Mahon, Mary Faherty and Gerald Keys followed the logic of the evidence. The Planning tribunal has done its job. Will the DPP's office, the police and the Revenue now do theirs?

The Mahon report strides through the recent past, thumping various pillars of the State. It thumps Albert Reynolds for panhandling a rich man and finds the late Liam Lawlor to have been as corrupt as we knew him to be. It finds Pee Flynn corruptly took £50,000 and used it to buy a little farm for Mrs Pee. It believes that the Fianna Fail cabinet sought to undermine the tribunal set up by the Oireachtas -- and we're all witness to that.

The report names a procession of minor politicians, cheap hustlers who eagerly sold their political asses for a grand or two. It whacks the gardai, who stood idly by as the cheap hustlers and the more expensive political hookers peddled their wares.

And then there's Bertie.

Mr Ahern is still at it -- using the same old smart-aleck phraseology to reject the tribunal findings. It's the ducking and diving language of the born spoofer. Four times his statement of rejection carefully denies he received a "corrupt payment". By this is meant a payment given with the intent of getting a favour, and received by someone who performs a corrupt act.

To prove a corrupt payment, you have to prove a connection between the money and the act. And the man we three times elected to the highest parliamentary office implies we can't prove that anything he did was connected to any particular chunk of money. Besides, he did nothing.

And, sure, the tribunal was only supposed to investigate the allegation that he got a bribe from Owen O'Callaghan. It "had no mandate at all to carry out a general inquiry into my finances".

In the course of investigating the O'Callaghan allegation, the tribunal found the mystery deposits.

Mr Ahern seems to think it should have ignored them, unless it found Mr O'Callaghan's fingerprints on the cash.

This is the defence of someone who tells the police: "You got a search warrant to look for some stolen televisions in my bedroom. And now you're making a fuss about finding some dodgy iPhones in my kitchen. That's not fair."

Mr Ahern, and others, may take the tribunal to court, and judges may pull at loose threads and give someone an excuse to plead exoneration. But we know what happened. Anyone paying attention knew what happened long before this report came out. All the evidence on which the report is based was on the public record. The only question about the report was whether the judges would flinch, or if they'd follow the logic of the evidence. To their credit, they didn't flinch.

We watched Mr Ahern twist and turn as he came up with convoluted stories about how various chunks of money made their way into his possession. Some of us made the quite unoriginal wisecrack that, "Soon he'll be telling us he won it on a horse". And, incredibly, that's exactly what he did. Which was the point at which Mr Ahern became a national joke.

Alleged digouts followed alleged dinners, with alleged whiparounds, and money in briefcases, safes and hotel wardrobes -- with hardly a scrap of paper to back up such explanations. The tribunal believes it was all tosh. And when the investigators lined Mr Ahern's stories up against the bank records they didn't match.

One reason the report is 3,270 pages long is the level of detail the tribunal went into when following the money trail. For instance, in one of many, many transactions described in detail, Mr Ahern had Celia Larkin deposit IR28,772.90 at AIB, on December 5, 1994. It was unusual to have coins as an element of such a deposit. This looked like a sum converted from a round figure in foreign currency.

Mr Ahern had an explanation. It was £30,000 in sterling he asked Ms Larkin to deposit (to do with his friend Michael Wall, from England). Trouble was, on that date, that bank branch took in less than two grand in sterling.

The tribunal report goes on for page after page showing its forensic accountants exploring one possibility after another, in search of a round sum in foreign currency. (It had to be a round sum, as foreign coins weren't accepted.)

To complicate things, there was more than one exchange (or "buy") rate, and a small commission might have been taken, which had to be allowed for. Finally, after three dozen pages of complex exploratory accounting we get this: ". . . the application of the customer buy rate for exchanging US Dollar amounts exceeding in value IR£2,500, when applied to US$45,000 produced a figure of IR£28,772.90 (the exact amount of Ms Larkin's lodgement)".

So, the money deposited, according to the branch records, had to be a round figure in dollars -- and one of the available currency exchange rates meant that if $45,000 was deposited it came out as IR£28,772.90, to the penny. Mr Ahern strongly rejects this conclusion. But, this kind of detail can't be waved away with whining about how the tribunal isn't playing fair.

And, wouldn't we all love to know where the $45,000 came from?

There have already been calls for the prosecution of Mr Ahern. No doubt the usual path will be followed -- a decision that there'll be no legal action taken until every possible action on every possibly questionable element in Mr Ahern's behaviour is thoroughly explored. This will take us to within a calendar month of when the sun is scheduled to burn itself out.

However, even if prosecutors chose just one aspect of this affair to test in court, it wouldn't be easy. It's hard to see a jury being able to follow a highly technical money trail, for instance, particularly when the defence would be throwing its own blizzard of figures into the mix.

Hopefully, CAB and the Revenue will be suitably aggressive in dealing with bank deposits of disputed provenance.

Anyway, getting some form of justice -- or even revenge -- from one pathetic, scorned individual is beside the point.

The tolerance of corruption that allowed all this to go on was part of the culture of greed that destroyed this country. Whole areas of Dublin were rearranged to suit the bank accounts of developers and landowners, regardless of how this damaged communities.

We have a history of readily accepting the cover stories of the powerful, allowing them to bypass the standards to which we all supposedly subscribe. As a result, we've got a broken country. And we've had to take a long, very expensive odyssey to establish the facts about this little set of scandals.

Sunday Independent

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