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Freeman on €120k loan: 'No I didn't need to do a background check. This guy is a very good guy'

Businessman Des Walsh has given Freeman a loan of €120k to fund her presidential campaign.

INDEPENDENT SENATOR JOAN Freeman has said that she has received a loan of €120,000 from businessman Des Walsh to fund her presidential campaign – but asserted that “it is a loan” and she intends to pay it back.

The founder of Pieta House said that she has also set up a GoFundMe account in order to raise funds for the campaign.

In an interview on Today with Sean O’Rourke, Freeman said that she was not playing “the poor mouth” but that she did not have the same financial backing as the other candidates.

Freeman is running against Áras incumbent Michael D Higgins, Sinn Féin candidate Liadh Ní Riada, and three Dragons’ Den investors: Seán Gallagher, Gavin Duffy, and Peter Casey.

Explaining the link that led to the loan from Walsh, Freeman said that he was a past boyfriend, who she went out with for less than a year when she was 19. 

“It’s a really interesting story what happened,” she said.

So we broke up after less than a year – Des went his way I went my way. Seemingly what happened was Des moved to America, moved to I think Texas, and then moved to LA.
And I was on the Late Late last January and someone sent Des a screenshot of me on the Late Late and said ‘Is that your one Joan Freeman?’

“And after 40 years, he sent me an email, we spoke on the phone.”

When asked whether she conducted background checks on his business, Freeman said that her initial concern when she heard from Walsh was what he looked like now.

“The fundamental question, sorry I might seem very shallow – What does he look like 40 years later? Is he married? Does he have children? Where does he live?”

Walsh was the president of Herbalife, a company that was investigated by the US Federal Trade Commission in 2016 based on accusations that it operated like a pyramid scheme.

The company was cleared of those accusations, but had to pay $200 million to settle complaints that it deceived consumers over the potential gains for selling its products.

The investigation focused on how Herbalife’s sales structure depended on multiple levels of people buying its products and finding others to further redistribute them. That created a chain of distributors without clear evidence of actual retail demand for the products.

Responding to the investigation, Freeman said:

The thing is, he did pay that fine of $200 million for people who… I don’t know what happened, as you say the pyramid scheme.
No I didn’t need to do a background check on him. This guy is a very good guy.

“And just the way he remembers me from 40 years ago, he believes in what I’m doing. It is a loan, it has to be paid back, and that’s where my independency is very, very important in everything that I do.”

She added that the money would be paid back, at the Sipo interest rate of 9%, over the next five years.

Freeman faced further questioning from reporters at her presidential campaign launch in Dublin this afternoon

On the loan repayment, she said it is something she is still negotiating, adding that she expects there to be ”a kindness there” in terms of the repayments. She expects to be able to make payments that “reflect what I can afford”. 

Freeman said she hopes to extend the loan term out longer, to perhaps ten years. 

Defending the loan, she said one of her fears is that Ireland will become a country where only the wealthy or those aligned to a party can run for president. 

“We mustn’t let that happen,” she said, adding that if that becomes the case, Ireland will become like “Trump’s America”. 

The presidential hopeful said she approached all other lenders in a bid to get the money – banks and the credit union, however, she said a presidential campaign is not “high on their priorities”.

She argued the loan was from Walsh’s personal funds and was not corporate.

Walsh had given her the loan, and it was not Herbalife that had backed her campaign, she said. 

“There is nothing I can do about that,” she answered today when it was put to her that some of her campaign pillars are contradicted by the Herbalife money being involved in her campaign. 

“When I asked for this loan I was asking on behalf of what I can do for my country,” she said, adding: 

“If there was someone else in Ireland who would have given me that loan I would have gladly accepted.”

Seanad salary

Freeman also responded to reports that she hadn’t donated her Seanad salary of €66,277 to Pieta House, as she had previously promised.

The Irish Times reported that she instead donated €41,000 to Solace House, a New York-based charity that was launched by Pieta House Ireland. According to the article, a spokesperson explained that the gap between the two amounts was because of “tax and pension deductions”.

Responding to those reports on air, Freeman said:

The Seanad salary that I donated was to Pieta House Inc, which only last year became Solace House.
€41,000 was donated to look after the Irish wherever they are, and we mustn’t twist information to make it look like news.

She said that the first year-and-a-half of her salary as a Senator was donated to Pieta House Inc, and that she was paid a Pieta House Ireland salary.

Freeman said that she believed that, if she was elected President, she could be “the heartbeat of the government”. She said that she reflects the real people of this country, and isn’t driving around in a big bus or using a helicopter to campaign.

With reporting by Christina Finn 

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