Wednesday 29 January 2020

Ahern may face new tax probe from ethics watchdog

Michael Brennan and Maeve Dineen

FORMER Taoiseach Bertie Ahern declared himself to be tax compliant in 2002 -- even though he was subsequently unable to "truthfully account" for IR£165,000 lodged to his bank accounts.

The political funding watchdog has confirmed that Mr Ahern furnished it with a tax clearance certificate in 2002, which was the first time such a requirement was in place for TDs.

It means that the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPOC) may revive its investigation into a complaint about Mr Ahern's tax compliance that was lodged four years ago.

The Mahon Tribunal said that Mr Ahern could not truthfully account for IR£165,000 lodged to his bank accounts between December 1993 and December 1995.

But SIPOC said it could only investigate the issue of Mr Ahern's tax clearance once the Revenue had concluded its own investigation.

Jail

"We require the Revenue to tell us that first and then the Commission would decide to do after that," a spokesman said.

It is an offence under ethics legislation to obtain a tax clearance certificate by false pretenses. Former Fianna Fail Limerick West TD Michael Collins was given a given a 12-month suspended jail term and €25,000 fine as a result in 2002.

In his most recent statement, Mr Ahern said that he would not accept the findings of the Mahon Tribunal to his "dying day". He said that his financial affairs were unorthodox but that his evidence was truthful.

Former Fine Gael senator Eugene Regan, who first made the complaint about Mr Ahern's tax affairs back in 2008, said he hoped that Revenue would soon conclude its investigation.

"The law should take its course. The regulations need to be applied no matter who is involved," he said.

Mr Ahern's 2002 tax clearance certificate covered him up until the 2007 general election. But he could not obtain a new tax clearance certificate in 2007 after the Revenue raised questions about the details he had given about his personal finances in his famous interview with RTE's Bryan Dobson. However, he was still able to comply with the ethics legislation by applying to the Revenue for a tax clearance certificate. He also lodged €70,000 with Revenue to cover any possible tax liability.

Yesterday, Mr Ahern formally submitted his resignation to the party in writing -- which pre-empted the party's move to expel him at its national executive meeting on Friday. Former European Commissioner Padraig Flynn and Fianna Fail councillor John Hannon, who were both found to have received corrupt payments by the tribunal, also resigned from the party. The party is still going ahead with motions to expel three other councillors found guilty of corruption.

Yesterday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny indicated that the issue of withdrawing political pensions from politicians found guilty of corruption would not be first on the list for the forthcoming Constitutional Convention. He pointed out that it already had been tasked with issues to look at -- such as extending voting rights to Irish citizens abroad, and the length of the presidential term.

"The constitutional convention has a specific remit and will be tasked with dealing with that remit first," he said.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News