Judge likely to ask for documents on Dunnes overseas lodgments

 

DUNNES Stores is likely to be asked to hand over further documents in addition to the Price Waterhouse report to help the investigation now under way into payments made by the company.

Judge Gerard Buchanan, who is examining the Price Waterhouse document, may decide to request supporting documents, including a court affidavit by Mr Ben Dunne which is understood to contain details of payments of more than £1 million to London bank accounts.

Mr Dunne's affidavit, drawn up as part of a legal battle which was settled in 1994, provides his version of where £1.1 million in payments from the company were routed. It is understood that he alleges that the ultimate beneficiary of the money was a Fianna Fail politician.

The Price Waterhouse report examines a range of payments made by Mr Ben Dunne when he was managing director of Dunnes Stores. It is understood that at that time the company lodged substantial sums in overseas bank accounts.

Mr Dunne's affidavit is understood to include details of payments from these overseas accounts into a number of accounts in a London bank. A total of £1.1 million is believed to have been paid in several instalments in 1990 and 1991 into a series of accounts, most of which were in the name of "John Furze". This is believed to be a fictitious name.

The court action was settled in late 1994, under a deal which entailed Mr Dunne accepting more than £100 million for his stake in the Dunnes family trust. The affidavit was not opened in court and thus never became public. At the end of the case Mr Dermot Gleeson SC, who appeared for Mr Dunne, said he withdrew all claims made against the trustees and the other members of the family.

Mrs Margaret Heffernan, Dunnes' managing director (and Mr Ben Dunne's sister), commissioned Price Waterhouse to draw up its report in preparation for the court action. It examined Mr Ben Dunne's record in charge of the company and payments made by him.

The judge is allowed to seek all information which helps him to identify transactions examined in the Price Waterhouse report. Dunnes says the agreement it made with the Government will comply with any reasonable request", provided it would not be against the company's interests. It is thus not clear just what documentation the company will be willing to hand over, or whether it has already been asked to supply additional documentation.

A spokesman for the company said last night that it was anxious to co operate with the Government as far as it could to clarify any questions relating to the Price Waterhouse report.

Geraldine Kennedy, Political Correspondent adds:

Under the agreement, Judge Buchanan may seek additional information from the directors of Dunnes Stores where it will assist in the identification of any public person.

The agreement, which was placed by the Taoiseach in the Dail library last night, lays down strict terms about the handling of the report prepared by Price Waterhouse, chartered accountants, on April 12th, 1994, which is entitled Dunnes Stores Report on Investigation - Volume I and Volume II.

Only the names of members or former members of the Dail, Seanad, any local authority, health board or other similar body, their relatives or political parties, at the time of any payment or transaction referred to in the Price Waterhouse report may be made public.

The contents of the report must be kept confidential to Judge Buchanan at all times and all copies must be returned to the company within 30 days of the completion of his investigation. The Government may not be shown the full report.

Judge Buchanan is also obliged to give Dunnes Stores and any named public person an opportunity to explain the basis of any payments, transactions or references recorded in the report.

The Government is indemnifying Dunnes Stores, its directors and employees and the professional firms involved in the compilation of the Price Waterhouse report against costs, charges, damages, losses, actions, proceedings or claims arising from the handing over of the report.

Nothing in the agreement shall prejudice or undermine the power of the authorities to take any criminal prosecutions they may deem appropriate arising out of the contents of the report.