Friday 24 January 2020

Mahon fallout: Bertie Ahern facing €1m tax and legal bill

Fianna Fail party member Aine Brady leaves Leinster House in Dublin after late talks by the party over the fate of former Taoiseach and party leader Bertie Ahern. Photo: PA
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern speaks as he leaves the Mahon Tribunal in Dublin. The long-awaited final report of Ireland's Mahon tribunal, the State's longest running corruption inquiry, is to be published today. Photo: PA
Fianna Fail TD Dara Callery leaves Leinster House in Dublin after late talks by the party over the fate of former Taoiseach and party leader Bertie Ahern. Photo: PA
Former EU Commissioner and environment minister Padraig Flynn, leaves the Mahon tribunal in Dublin. Photo: PA
Bertie Ahern

Fionnan Sheahan, Michael Brennan and Brendan Keenan

SHAMED former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is facing a potential €1m hit after the Mahon Tribunal found he repeatedly lied about the sources of €275,000 in his bank accounts.

Between his tax liability from the mystery payments, the prospect of having to pay his own legal costs and loss of earnings on the lucrative international speaking circuit, experts last night put the final bill for his tribunal wrangle at more than €1m.

The revelation came as Mr Ahern rejected the tribunal's findings that he failed to give "a truthful account".

He said the tribunal had not made a finding to support the "scurrilous and untrue allegation" that he received a corrupt payment from developer Owen O'Callaghan.

"I hid nothing," he declared.

PAYMENTS

Fianna Fail desperately tried to contain the damage to the party's reputation by moving to kick Mr Ahern out of the party.

However, the tribunal turned the screw by accusing senior FF ministers when in government of trying to undermine its work with a "sustained and virulent attack".

In its report, the Mahon Tribunal found:

- Mr Ahern failed to "truthfully" explain the source of IR£215,000 (€275,000).

- Former minister Padraig Flynn "wrongly and corruptly" sought a donation from Tom Gilmartin.

- Corruption affected every level of Irish political life.

- Eleven councillors received "corrupt payments".

- Liam Lawlor accepted corrupt payments.

- Mr O'Callaghan made corrupt payments.

- The practice of FF ministers seeking donations from businessmen looking for government support for projects was "an abuse of political power and government authority".

The Government has referred the report to the Garda Commissioner, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Revenue Commissioners and to the Standards in Public Office Commission.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Government had acted swiftly by referring the report to the relevant authorities.

Coalition ministers didn't hold back from putting the boot into Fianna Fail following the publication of the damning report.

Environment Minister Phil Hogan said the planning tribunal report drew a line in the sand on corruption as he pointed the finger at Fianna Fail.

"Long after the Haughey era, corruption was still rampant within Fianna Fail-led governments," he said.

DEBATE

Next week in the Dail, there will be three days of debate on the tribunal.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin served in cabinet during the 2007-2008 period when the tribunal claims the then government tried to "collapse its inquiry" into Mr Ahern.

The rejection of Mr Ahern's evidence by the tribunal casts a doubt over whether he will be awarded his legal costs.

Mr Ahern himself estimated his costs would hit €500,000 from his dealings with and appearances before the tribunal.

Following the publication of the report, Mr Ahern will also have to resolve his potential tax liability with the Revenue.

According to tax experts, Mr Ahern's financial future depends on whether the Revenue views the €275,000 of payments as gifts or, as Mr Ahern claimed, as loans. If they were interest-free loans, tax would be due on the benefit of the free interest rate.

Unlike the tribunal, it is of no concern to the taxman why the gifts were made; only that they were made.

If Mr Ahern has not made a settlement, he is liable for penalties and back interest on unpaid tax. In previous cases, they have amounted to as much and more as the tax owing.

The onus is on Mr Ahern, not the Revenue, to prove that these were loans, not gifts, and avoid a disastrous bill on this scale.

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