Ahern denies air trip with a case of cash
JODY CORCORAN EXCLUSIVE THE Taoiseach and his former partner Celia Larkin have denied claims by a former Garda that Mr Ahern took a briefcase of cash to Manchester when he was the Finance Minister.
A Fine Gael politician has told the Planning tribunal of the extraordinary claims, made by a former garda who was Mr Ahern's driver in 1994.
Mr Ahern has described the claims as "baloney". They were passed on to the tribunal by Jim Higgins, a former minister, now a Fine Gael MEP.
Former Garda Martin Fallon first made the claim seven years ago, when he sought out and was interviewed in Leinster House by Mr Higgins and Enda Kenny, now the Fine Gael leader.
Garda Fallon repeated his claims to Mr Higgins, in a telephone conversation which was overheard in its entirety by the Sunday Independent in autumn 2000. But he now refuses to repeat his allegation, or to make further comment.
The Taoiseach is concerned that Fine Gael is contriving to make Garda Fallon's claims public in order to cause him maximum political damage in advance of the General Election. On Friday, Mr Ahern told the Sunday Independent that Fine Gael was engaged in "dirty tricks". He added that he had not been asked by the tribunal about Garda's Fallon's claims.
But Fine Gael is anxious that Mr Ahern should publicly respond to Garda Fallon's claims, as part of the ongoing controversy in relation to payments made to him by friends, associates and businessmen, in 1994, when he was Finance Minister.
Yesterday, Mr Higgins told the Sunday Independent: "I can confirm that in 2000 I was approached by a former member of An Garda Siochana, and as a result I met with a senior barrister representing the then Flood tribunal and gave a detailed interview outlining the information which the former garda gave me.
"Because of the fact that I may be a witness at the tribunal, I have been advised by my lawyer that I should not make any further public comment on the matter.
"However, I can confirm that the allegation made by the former garda were subsequently repeated by him on my Leinster House office telephone and was overheard by Sunday Independent journalist, Jody Corcoran, who was with me in my office at the time." According to Mr Higgins, in 2000 Garda Fallon approached himself and his then fellow Fine Gael TD for Mayo, Enda Kenny.
He said there was something on his mind, and that, because he had gotten to know both of them when he was a driver during the Rainbow Coalition's two years in power, he felt he could tell them about it.
According to Mr Higgins, the two Mayo TDs brought Garda Fallon to an interview room in Leinster House.
According to Mr Higgins, Garda Fallon had told him that in 1994 he had been asked to collect Mr Ahern's former
partner, Celia Larkin, in Mr Ahern's Government car and to take her to a bank on O'Connell Street in Dublin. A short time later, Ms Larkin emerged with a briefcase.
Garda Fallon told Mr Higgins and Mr Kenny that he was asked to drop Ms Larkin to wherever she was going, but that as she got out of the car she said she would be leaving the briefcase in the car, and for Garda Fallon to take care of it until the morning.
Curiosity got the better of the driver and he opened the briefcase to find a large amount of cash inside.
He told the two Mayo TDs that he panicked slightly, because he did not want to be left with responsibility for the cash overnight.
So, according to Mr Higgins, Garda Fallon said he put the briefcase in the boot and brought the car to the Garda depot in the Phoenix Park, where it remained for the night.
According to Mr Higgins, the following morning he received a telephone call to collect Mr Ahern in Drumcondra and to take him to the airport.
Specifically, according to Mr Higgins, Garda Fallon said he was told to bring the briefcase with him. Mr Ahern is then said to have walked through the airport's VIP section, briefcase in hand, on his way to catch a flight to Manchester.
Garda Fallon repeated this allegation while on speaker phone to Mr Higgins, then a Fine Gael TD, while the Sunday Independent listened to the conversation. Mr Higgins did not tell Garda Fallon that the Sunday Independent was listening.
On Friday, while canvassing voters in Dublin Central, Mr Ahern strongly denied Mr Fallon's claims. He was aware of the allegation, but he said there was absolutely no truth in it. His former partner, Ms Larkin has also denied it.
Mr Ahern said he and Ms Larkin had "regularly" put money into, and taken it out of, "the bank". He also spoke, confusingly, of when Garda Fallon was his driver.
Eight weeks ago, Mr Higgins wrote to the Planning tribunal to seek a copy of a statement that he believed was taken from him by former tribunal lawyer John Gallagher seven years ago. He says he did not receive an acknowledgement.
Mr Higgins then had his solicitor write to the tribunal on Friday, March 16 last, and, again, on Tuesday last.
On Friday, the tribunal told Mr Higgins' solicitor that they did not receive his letter of March 16, but that they did receive his letter of last week.
According to Mr Higgins, his solicitor was told that while the tribunal team did take notes of their conversation in 2000, he had not given, nor had he been asked to give, a statement. His solicitor was told that should the tribunal require a statement from Mr Higgins they would be in touch. In 2000, after the Sunday Independent had overheard the conversation between Mr Higgins and Garda Fallon, we contacted Garda Fallon. AtHe said he had no comment to make.
Later that week Garda Fallon's wife contacted the Sunday Independent to ask us not to publish the story. She said her husband was unwell.
On Friday, Mr Fallon's son told the Sunday Independent that his father had no comment to make.