Saturday, May 05, 2007

A Twist In The Money Trail

Like unwanted guests that will not leave, some bundles of cash have been lodged in Bertie Ahern's political house and they simply won't go away.

In October of 1994, several wads of cash came calling. Evidence given to the Mahon tribunal indicated that this was a form of aid, when Mr. Ahern was getting out of a failing marriage and friends came through to help him get on his feet. Friends in Manchester passed the hat as well, and sent Mr. Ahern back home to Dublin with 8,000 stg. to see him through a rough patch. Mr. Ahern admitted to lodging 24,500 stg., all proceeds from private assistance.

According to the tribunal, at the exchange rate in use on the day the money arrived at the bank, Mr. Ahern had actually received the equivalent of 25,000 stg. A few pounds up or down, this is hardly an "Ah ha!" moment. Anyone using this one transaction to pillory the Taoiseach will be accused of over-reaching, splitting hairs over slight differences that fall within reasonable limits of memory.

That was not the only questionable transaction of cash, however. Michael Wall gave Mr. Ahern 30,000 in pounds sterling, yes, but that was turned over to Celia Larkin to manage. She placed the money at AIB, right there on O'Connell Street in the heart of Dublin. But sir, said the Mahon Tribunal, the amount that was lodged in the account was equal to $45,000, based on the rate of exchange on the day the money was tucked away. Mr. Ahern denies that he ever worked in dollars, and of that he is quite certain. Until more information is released, we are all left to ponder this particular exchange. Is the tribunal looking at bank records, and observing a transaction that exchanged dollars for Irish pounds? Why did the tribunal mention an exchange rate of dollars rather than British pounds? What's going on, exactly?

The money trail takes a decided turn further down the road, in June and December of 1995. According to the tribunal, the total sum that entered the bank did not add up, based on rates of exchange for Irish and British pounds. How did that happen? The Irish pounds left Mr. Ahern's bank account, 50,000 of them, and they were exchanged for the equivalent sum in pounds sterling. Mr. Wall was buying the infamous Drumcondra house, and Mr. Ahern was going to give him the money to pay for some work that Mr. Wall wanted done on the house. A designer kitchen could easily have run into the tens of thousands of pounds, and isn't the kitchen the heart of any home?

Wouldn't you know, but Mr. Ahern never did get around to giving Mr. Wall that money right away, so he kept it in a safe for a time. Mr. Wall did indeed receive some of it, not all of it, and the remainder was lodged back in the bank, mingled in with other sources of revenue that were lumped together in the same transaction. Hence, the numbers don't add up because there was more than one source. Rather like emptying out the trouser pockets at the end of a busy day and dumping all the change into one pile. After a week, there's five euro there and you couldn't say where exactly it all came from.

Somewhere in all this jumble is information that has the Progressive Democrats on edge. They've been in coalition with Bertie Ahern et al. and have been campaigning on their joint success. Do they want to be tied to a political party whose leader has some explaining to do? But if the voters don't turn against Fianna Fail, would they take it out on the PDs for turning against an innocent man?

So Bertie Ahern kept money in a safe -- what man doesn't try to hide assets from the wife he's leaving? It's all about the separation from Mrs. Ahern, and doing his best to hang on to the money that he didn't think she deserved after putting up with him for all those years. Better to dance around and hope the voters are more concerned with their own wallets than the Ahern billfold. It's far more politically damaging to be seen as a wealthy man who hid assets from the soon to be ex-wife than to be viewed as a Finance Minister who couldn't keep track of his own funds.

The Mahon Tribunal's gone home until after the election, delaying further investigation into the Ahern finances. If only the bundles of cash would do the same.

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