Men in alleged scheme to launder money seen as `birds of a feather'


The men behind the crimes which led to Ireland's first moneylaundering trial were likened by the State's senior counsel, Ms Maureen Clarke, yesterday to the great black-backed gull.

"They are birds of a feather who really do flock together," she said during her summing-up to Cork Criminal Circuit Court. "They dominate, they are aggressive, they are smart, they want more out of life than others, they will fight."

The trial of Ms Maria Bernadetta Jehle (47), of the Priory, Cobh, Co Cork, on two charges of handling money knowing it was the proceeds of others' criminal activity is now in its 10th week.

Ms Clarke described Mr Sven Uwe Palisch, one of the key witnesses for the defence, and his friends, including Mr Peter Jehle, son of the defendant, as the great black-backed gulls who swindled two businessmen out of their money and laundered it in Ireland.

"If you are satisfied that the victims were persuaded by the fraudulent activities of Palisch and Peter Jehle to hand over their money then you have criminal activity," Ms Clarke told the jury. "If the defendant handled some of that money and assisted in hiding it then she is guilty."

She said Mr Palisch had tried to prevent the prosecution from getting information about his Swiss bank account "so that we could not close the circle of evidence".

Mr Palisch, she said, brought up in a communist country and after German reunification put into the army at 19, had been "a young man in a hurry to grow up" and obsessed by money. "He attached himself to people who wore expensive suits, drove top-of-therange Mercedes and ran up bills of £200,000 at the Grosvenor House Hotel," she said.

In contrast, a key witness for the prosecution was Mr Walter Robin, an American financier based in Monaco. "He was shaken, but not stirred in his evidence that he was an international entrepreneur able to deliver a loan."

Ms Clarke said Ms Jehle confessed her guilt in her own statement, saying "I knew the money wasn't right", and afterwards tried to pretend she had not understood what was going on. In fact, she had a very good command of English.

Mr Blaise O'Carroll SC, for Ms Jehle, described the case as an extraordinarily complex one which had been a tremendous intrusion into the lives of the jury.

He said that Ms Jehle was Swiss, and her natural language was Swiss-German, although she also spoke standard German. In her country Italian and French were also spoken, but not as a general rule English. She first came to Ireland in 1989 for a few days' holiday, and this was her first real contact with English.

"Yet in Midleton Garda station last year, after her arrest, she was deprived of an interpreter because gardai were convinced on the basis of a few words spoken outside a bank that she spoke excellent English," said Mr O'Carroll. The result was a statement in which were things she never said, or meant.

Mr O'Carroll said Mr Palisch, despite the prosecution's attempts to depict him as a person hard to find, had come to court for three days to give evidence and had also attended on a previous occasion.

He invited the jury to wonder: "Is Walter Robin the one who outfoxed everyone? Is Walter Robin for real?" He described Mr Robin's plans for raising a DM40 million loan as "idiotic" and the two defrauded businessmen as "too trusting, too reliant on other people". They had learned a painful and salutary lesson and therefore had a vested interest when giving evidence. Ms Jehle, he said, knew nothing about any of these people until the trial and nothing about any criminal activity.

Mr O'Carroll continues his summary today.