Sunday 17 December 2017

The quiet spider who wove the Ansbacher web

Profile: Des Traynor's clients kept their money offshore, but he scrupulously paid his taxes himself, writes Liam Collins AT the centre of a...

Profile: Des Traynor's clients kept their money offshore, but he scrupulously paid his taxes himself, writes Liam Collins

AT the centre of a spider's web, James Desmond Traynor held together the delicate threads that made up the financial affairs of the great and the good in Irish society.

For four decades, he alone knew what was going on in the private world of Ireland's most powerful men. Their secrets were safe because the web he wove so skillfully could not be seen by any prying eyes.

He moved their money through a labyrinthine series of accounts and companies, through exotic destinations in the Cayman Islands, all the while defeating and defying complex tax codes and exchange control regulations.

Yet it would appear that Des, as he was fondly known in the golden circle, was scrupulous in paying his own taxes. His money was all kept in Ireland and when he died suddenly in 1994, he had an estate valued at £1.7m, much of it sitting idle in deposit accounts in Guinness & Mahon, the bank he ran as his personal financial institution, and the ICS Building Society, where he was a valued client.

Now his many friends and business associates people like Charles Haughey; property developer John Byrne; Kerry TD Denis Foley; Ken O'Reilly-Hyland, the oil executive and a fellow director in New Ireland Assurance; auctioneer John Finnegan; his colleague in CRH, Tony Barry; and Jim Culliton, the former chairman of Allied Irish Bank must wish that instead of giving them costly financial advice, Des Traynor had simply told them to follow his own example.

On May 5, 1994, a broadly smiling Des Traynor took the chair at the AGM of CRH, a company he had helped found and of which he had been chairman for the previous seven years. But behind the facade he was seriously ill, replying almost incoherently to questions from the floor. Six days later, on May 11, he was dead.

Some profile writers have him dying of cancer, others say he went for heart surgery and never recovered. In truth he died ``peacefully'' at his large home on Howth Rd on Dublin's northside at the age of 62. His funeral in St Vincent de Paul Church in Marino brought the cream of Irish business and politics to say farewell.

When he died, he left a total of £1,739,884 to his wife Mary Josephine Traynor, known in the family as Dofeen. After capital gains tax of £427,823, there was a tidy sum left over. His sons, Anthony F, Denis J, Gerard P, John D and Mark J, and his only daughter, Sheila Doherty, had already had settlements of £88,000 each in the years up to 1993. Each of his seven grandchildren received a legacy of £10,000.

The executors of his last will and testament, drawn up just two months before his death, were Anthony F Traynor, the eldest of his five sons, and Sam Field-Corbett, of Pine Valley Avenue, Grange Rd, Rathfarnham, who had worked with him in the accountancy firm of Haughey Boland and who was a director of many of the companies with which he was involved.

Mr Field-Corbett's name hasn't gone unnoticed at the Moriarty Tribunal, which is trying to find its way to the centre of the web that Des Traynor spun as bookkeeper to the financial movers and shakers of Dublin. Traynor's solicitor was Liam McGonagle and along with Ken O'Reilly-Hyland, chairman of Burmah Castrol, the trio were directors of Marlborough Holdings, which was involved in office-block development.

But £1.7m wasn't the only legacy Des Traynor left behind. For those whose money he moved to offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands, and who now face being publicly named when Charlie McCreevy amends the Finance Act in April, he has left nothing but grief.

DES Traynor was the quiet man of Dublin's financial community. He seems to have conducted most of his business discreetly in the corner of hotel lobbies and, as the tribunal has heard, he scrupulously cut the letter-heading off Ansbacher statements before sending them out to his clients. No detail was too trivial when he was doing something for the tight circle of friends who trusted him with their most secret financial affairs.

After school at Westland Row Christian Brothers and the College of Commerce in Rathmines, where he studied accountancy, he joined the Amiens St firm of Haughey Boland, run by aspiring politician Charles Haughey and his friend Harry Boland. It was the beginning of a trusted friendship that would last until his death.

Through Haughey Boland he met John Byrne, one of the great speculative builders of our era, who appointed him to the board of the Carlisle Trust. This company acquired huge tranches of Georgian and Victorian Dublin, pulled them down, and used the late Desmond FitzGerald, elder brother of Garret, to design and build ugly modern office blocks on the sites. It was hugely profitable and Des Traynor established the Guinness Mahon Cayman Trust as the holding company for the golden circle of favoured clients, including Mr Byrne.

He retired from Haughey Boland in 1969. In Howth Yacht Club he had met John Guinness, who was so impressed with his knowledge and his contacts he brought him into the bank that bore the famous name. Among the blue-bloods at Guinness & Mahon, the Christian Brothers boy who never lost his Dublin twang established the Ansbacher accounts a web of financial intrigue that has ruined the reputations of great men, lined the pockets of a horde of lawyers and accountants and launched a thousand headlines.

Through the bank he became personally involved in company tussles. He helped fight off a take-over of New Ireland Assurance by Joe Moore's PMPA, and got himself a seat on the board of New Ireland. He was an advisor to Cement Ltd when buccaneer businessman Tom Roche moved to take it over. When the merger occurred, Traynor, who had engineered a peaceful amalgamation rather than a bitter battle, went onto the board of what became CRH.

He stayed with Guinness & Mahon until 1986, channelling what is estimated at well over £100m through the bank into what were to become the Ansbacher accounts, run by his friend John Furze, a Cayman Islands banker. His clients weren't all Fianna Fáil as the Moriarty tribunal heard last week, former Fine Gael Minister Hugh Coveney had money in Ansbacher, while former FG Attorney-General Peter Sutherland told the tribunal he had introduced his father-in-law to Guinness & Mahon in 1976 and the bank had facilitated a mysterious back-to-back loan about which Mr Sutherland knows nothing.

FURZE, Traynor's Cayman Island partner, who has since died, visited Ireland only once, in May, 1994, for Des Traynor's funeral. While in Ireland for the obsequies, he combined business with mourning, calling on some of Dublin's most important businessmen, among them the former rugby international Ray McLoughlin of James Crean, who has now admitted writing the intriguing ``Note to John Furze'' which mysteriously turned up among the papers of that other multimillionaire, stockbroker and rugby buff, Kyran McLaughlin.

In the years before Traynor died, the operation of the Ansbacher accounts did raise eyebrows. But he fended off any queries from the Central Bank and other regulatory authorities.

Des Traynor was not a banker in any conventional sense; he was more a personal financial whirlwind. When Guinness & Mahon was sold he went out on his own, using his impeccable business contacts and moving into CRH's Pembroke Street base, where he continued to run his offshore banking operation while acting as company chairman.

But he does not appear to have put a penny of his own money in offshore accounts. When he died, most of it was sitting safely in stocks and shares and various deposit accounts within walking distance of his home. It appears that this upright family man regarded speculation with disdain. He was a banker's banker, living by the motto mothers use to scold their children: don't do as I do, do as I tell you.

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