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What's all this about a whistleblower, a dossier and some politicians dodging tax?

Everything you need to know about a whistleblower’s claims of tax dodging by some former prominent politicians.

Jobs Minister Richard Bruton and his department (background) are in the spotlight after these latest allegations
Jobs Minister Richard Bruton and his department (background) are in the spotlight after these latest allegations
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Updated 22.55pm

LATE LAST WEEK, the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee received a dossier detailing serious allegations of tax evasion by a number of former senior politicians.

In what’s believed to be the first use of the new whistleblower legislation – the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 – the PAC will now take legal advice later this week on just how it can proceed with the allegations.

Already prominent members of the public spending watchdog are pushing for a full investigation and for a chance to interview the whistleblower.

We have much to learn about this potentially explosive dossier, but here’s what we know so far…

Who is the whistleblower? 

An official in the Department of Enterprise and Jobs, whose name has been reported elsewhere, is behind the dossier which outlines allegations that a number of prominent former politicians engaged in significant tax evasion over a number of years dating back to the 1970s.

In 1998, the whistleblower is said to have been appointed by Mary Harney (below) – who was then the Tánaiste and Enterprise Minister in the department now known as the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation – as an authorised officer under company law to investigate offshore Ansbacher bank accounts.

MARY HARNEY GENERAL ELECTIONS CAMPAIGNS 2002 Source: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

What is he claiming? 

The whistleblower is claiming that in 2003 and 2004 he uncovered evidence that former politicians were the beneficial owners of accounts in the Cayman Islands that were linked to the Ansbacher controversy.

What is the Ansbacher controversy? 

Ansbacher was a bank in the Cayman Islands that was used by the late Des Traynor to hold money offshore for a select group of wealthy clients, including politicians. Traynor, a former financial advisor to Charlie Haughey, was the head of Guinness and Mahon Bank between 1968 and 1988.

Under his unauthorised scheme – which ran from 1971 until the mid-90s – clients opened and lodged money to offshore trusts through Traynor but could then withdraw this money from Guinness and Mahon Bank in Dublin. The whole purpose of the scheme was to avoid hundreds of millions of pounds worth of tax in Ireland.

Charlie Haughey Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

The Ansbacher scheme was disclosed at the McCracken Tribunal in 1997,  with the late Haughey named as being among around 200 Ansbacher account-holders based in Ireland. Revenue investigations to date have yielded €112.71 million from 142 people with €49.05 million of this being unpaid tax and €63.66 million in penalties. No one was ever prosecuted in relation to the Ansbacher scandal.

So what are these new claims? 

According to Saturday’s Irish Times, the whistleblower contends that these former politicians were the beneficial owners of Cayman accounts in a ‘secret Ansbacher ledger‘. He claims that his evidence comes from interviews with former Guinness and Mahon employees. A list of the politicians’ names was kept separate from their account balances so as to keep their identities secret, according to the newspaper.

Do we know who the politicians are? 

We don’t have names but reports are that it involves a number – at least nine – former prominent Fianna Fáil politicians and at least one former prominent Fine Gael politician. The names appear in the dossier sent to PAC. The majority of the claims relate to politicians who served in the Dáil prior to 2000 – although a small number continued in office after the turn of the century.

What else does the dossier say? 

Labour Party Launch Private Members Bills Pat Rabbitte pressed Mary Harney on the issue when Labour leader in 2005 Source: Graham Hughes/Photocall Ireland!

The whistleblower claims that former Enterprise Minister Mary Harney asked him to end his investigations in June 2004 before he had finished them. Harney told the Dáil in 2005 that she felt that the officer investigating the claims, the whistleblower, should bring his probe to an end.

“He was in the middle of various investigations and I felt it desirable that the officer who was carrying out those should complete them. However, I felt that it was time to bring those investigations to a conclusion seven years on. I was under the impression they would have concluded much earlier.”

She was responding after the issue was raised by then-Labour leader Pat Rabbitte who suggested in the Dáil that Harney’s actions “lays itself open to the belief that the investigation was not terminated because it had come to fruition, but rather because it might do so”. Harney insisted she acted properly throughout her time as enterprise minister.

What about the current minister?

File photo: BWG announce 1000 new jobs. Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Jobs Minister Richard Bruton has been accused of ignoring the whistleblower’s allegation. The whistleblower claims that Bruton has not forwarded his (the whistleblower’s) witness statement, made in 2012, to the gardaí. The whistleblower also claims, according to today’s Irish Times, that Bruton failed to acknowledge two emails sent to him in 2011 as well as a registered letter sent to his home address. The whistleblower is also said to have alerted Attorney General Máire Whelan to his claims.

What is Bruton saying? 

Bruton said in a lengthy statement at the weekend that following preliminary inquiries carried out in the Department since 1998, files were sent between 2004 and 2010 to a number of appropriate authorities – the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, the Gardaí, the Revenue Commissioners, the Mahon Tribunal and the Moriarty Tribunal.

Bruton said some of these bodies have reported on the allegations in question, gardaí investigated them at the time and a file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

(It’s worth noting that gardaí said last Friday that they received allegations in 2007, they were investigated and a file sent to the DPP. They gave no indication of any ongoing investigation, saying: “If any new or further information on these matters are provided to us then they will of course be investigated.”) 

In an apparent reference to the whistleblower’s claim that allegations were raised with him, Bruton said that the statement would be forwarded by his department to the relevant authorities “very shortly”. Explaining the delay – which appears to be nearly two years – Bruton said:

This statement relates to wide-ranging and complex matters dating back over many years, and while this work was not completed as quickly as expected due to retirement of key personnel, I am advised that all matters contained in the statement are covered by the documents already submitted to the relevant authorities.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny also said at the weekend that the delay in dealing with the documentation was “because of the retirement of a public servant and because of pressure of work”.

What does the opposition think? 

Tuam Single Mothers and Babies Homes Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Unsurprisingly, Sinn Féin has been first out of the traps with PAC member Mary Lou McDonald questioning the delay, calling for Kenny to make a further statement on the matter, and looking for him to outline contact between the whistleblower and government members.

“Mr Kenny needs to set out what action Mr Bruton took, if any, and he needs to clarify a point in respect of a witness statement which I understand was passed to Mr Bruton in December 2012 and to confirm that the witness statement was passed on to the Garda Bureau Fraud Investigation,” she said.

What about other members of the PAC? 

Labour TD Joe Costello said he expects that former ministers dating back to the 1990s would be called before the committee to account for what they knew about the whistleblower’s allegations.

Independent TD Shane Ross has said that the allegations in the dossier are “absolutely staggering” and said the PAC, of which he is a member, is the appropriate body to investigate the claims.

Are Fianna Fáil gone quiet on all this? 

FF European Elections Manifestos Campaigns Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Nope. Party leader Micheál Martin, himself a former enterprise minister, spoke to reporters about the issue over the weekend. He said that the clear legal advice given to him in 2006, when he was in the department, was that the matters raised had been referred to outside investigatory bodies without any delay. This followed extensive interaction with the whistleblower and a senior counsel who Martin appointed to give him legal advice.

“So all the material, following substantial interaction with [the whistleblower] on all of the issues, all of that material was sent on to those bodies,” Martin told reporters in Kildare on Saturday. “Then the Department made themselves available to those bodies to assist in their investigation of the issues that were raised in the Section 19 investigations.”

Anything else we should know? 

Yes, it transpires that Justice Declan Costello, a former High Court president who had a role in investigating the Ansbacher affair, had an account with Guinness and McMahon and is named in the whistleblower’s dossier.

File Photo Declan Costello's Famly says he had a despoit in Guinness and Mahon bank but he didnt have off shore account. Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

The family of the deceased judge said at the weekend that Costello did not remember the existence of the account – opened for a short time in the 1970s to receive the €15,000 share of his father’s estate – when asked to act as an inspector into the Ansbacher controversy in 1999.

What happens next? 

PAC is set to get legal advice on how to proceed this week but indications are that members are keen to at least speak to the whistleblower about his allegations. Whether this is done in public or private session is not yet clear although already there are suggestions that his appearance could be similar to that of garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe who appeared in private session earlier this year with the media prevented from reporting on proceedings.

First published 13.30pm

Bruton: Politician tax-dodging claims were probed by Mahon and Moriarty

Read: Dossier of politician ‘tax-dodging’ claims handed to PAC

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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