Ex-Irish premier quits party over secret payments

Mar 25, 2012, 1:01 PM

Associated Press

DUBLIN (AP) – Former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern announced Sunday he has resigned from the Fianna Fail party rather than be expelled over an investigation into secret payments he received while in office, but vowed to clear his name.

Ahern, 60, denounced the findings of a 15-year investigation organized by Ahern’s own government into bribery and corruption in Irish political life.

The three judges overseeing the fact-finding effort issued a final report Thursday that found Ahern collected more than (EURO)200,000 ($260,000) in secret while in office; tried to stop the public learning the truth about the money squirreled away in two safes and third-party bank accounts; and provided unbelievable explanations for how he accrued the cash in three currencies.

“I believe a grave injustice has been done to me,” Ahern said in a statement to the Sunday Independent newspaper.

“It would be far easier for me to say nothing and try to forget about this nightmare. But I can’t allow this blemish on my character to go unanswered,” said Ahern, who declined to specify what legal or other action he planned to take.

Ahern, who was Fianna Fail leader from 1994 to 2008 and Ireland’s prime minister from 1997 to 2008, said he was “deeply saddened” to face an expulsion motion and would resign instead.

“The last thing I want to do, given that I have now retired as a public representative, is to be a source of political division in the party I care so deeply about,” said Ahern, who represented central Dublin in Dail Eireann, Ireland’s parliament, from 1977 to 2011.

But Fianna Fail’s justice spokesman, Dara Calleary, said the party’s executive had yet to receive Ahern’s resignation letter and still planned to vote to expel him at a meeting this Friday in punishment for Ahern’s unacceptable money-collecting record.

During 15 days of testimony in 2007 and 2008, Ahern was repeatedly caught misleading the judges about the extent of his hidden money, as well as an ill-documented agreement that allowed him to live in a home technically owned by a benefactor.

Ahern eventually was forced to admit collecting hundreds of thousands in cash that he kept in two safes in his office and home in the early 1990s when he was Ireland’s finance minister, then eventually transferring those and other undocumented cash into more than a dozen accounts in the names of his children and then-partner, Celia Larkin.

Ahern kept no Irish bank account during much of the period under investigation, and testified that he always cashed paychecks in pubs rather than deposit them normally. He branded some unearthed cash payments from businessmen as gifts and loans from friends, then admitted he didn’t know some of their names, and no loan agreements existed. He repaid about (EURO)90,000 ($125,000).

The judges said they couldn’t determine whether Ahern was corrupt, because they could find no proof that he gave any his donors particular favors as a condition of their payment.

Sunday Independent columnist Brendan O’Connor, in a column accompanying Ahern’s statement, wrote that the judges “couldn’t find Ahern guilty of anything but lying, precisely because he lied. Because he wouldn’t tell it the truth about where the money came from, it was unable to determine the source of funds.”

He said much of the investigation’s work, at an estimated cost to taxpayers of (EURO)250 million ($325 million), was “misguided and wasteful.”

___

Online:

Judges’ final report,
http://bit.ly/GLI1En

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Ex-Irish premier quits party over secret payments