Joan Freeman defends loan of €120,000 from Herbalife president

Presidential candidate says she would exploit hidden powers and symbolism of the office

 Launch of Senator Joan Freeman’s presidential campaign in Dublin. Photograph: Tom Honan/ The Irish Times.

Launch of Senator Joan Freeman’s presidential campaign in Dublin. Photograph: Tom Honan/ The Irish Times.

 

Presidential candidate Joan Freeman has defended a campaign loan of €120,000 she received from US-based businessman Des Walsh.

She said the money was personal to him rather than from his company Herbalife, which has paid a substantial fine arising from allegations of pyramid selling.

Ms Freeman said Mr Walsh was her boyfriend 40 years ago and the money came from his “personal wealth”.

She also argued the investigation by the US authorities into Herbalife had uncovered “no criminal activity” although €200 million in fines had been paid.

The loan was requested, she said, on the basis of what it could do for her country.

Ms Freeman was speaking at the official launch of her presidential election campaign in Dublin city centre on Monday. Using the slogan “Better Together” she pledged to use the office if elected, to exploit the hidden powers and hidden symbolism of the presidency.

She also said she would extend the An Gaisce award to all age groups, create an Annual Day of Wellness, work to stamp out cyberbullying, change the language used around older people, and give a voice to young people on the Council of State.

The question and answer session with the media was largely dominated by questions surrounding the loan from Mr Walsh, and its advisability.

Loan

Asked if she should have conducted due diligence, Ms Freeman said she had accepted the loan from a person she had known and the money had come personally from him. She said that otherwise it would have been difficult for her to enter the race.

“I could not get a loan in this country,” she said. “It has allowed me put my neck above the parapet. It has allowed me to borrow and to give back.”

She described it as an “honest and transparent” loan and added that she was not able to raise that level of loan in Ireland. She said she had approached financial institutions domestically without avail.

Ms Freeman also disclosed the terms of the loan are open to negotiation but given its size she said she might try to pay it back over an extended period, perhaps 10 years.

Ms Freeman has said that she has raised a total of €130,000 in loans as well as using €10,000 from her own resources. Asked if €140,000 would represent the total spend of her campaign, she replied the sum would not keep her campaign going beyond next week. She said she would be seeking additional donations and had opened an online funding account.

Donald Trump

She was reminded of a newspaper interview she conducted last January in which she said she had no interest in running for the presidency, and said the role more suited a politician or a lawyer. In response she said: “A lot of people change their minds. When I was a Senator I could see how government works and could see how government does not work,” she said.

When asked about a visit by US president Donald Trump to Ireland she said she would find it difficult to welcome him, given what he says about women. She added “he will one day stand down, and we must keep our relationship (with the US) strong.”

Referring to Michael D Higgins she said: “Our current President has done a great job but now is time for refocusing the office.” She said the next seven years were crucial for building “the mental and physical resilience we need to face the challenges ahead”.

Asked how she would deal with the €317,000 allowance paid to the president, she did not say she would scrap it but added that “everything has to be scrutinised when the new president comes into office”.

Separately yesterday, Ms Freeman pointed out that she had donated her Seanad salary to a Pieta-linked charity in the US.

The US charity first started as a pilot in 2015, launched by Pieta House Ireland. Financial statements from Pieta House state the US service would be an “arm’s length domestic not-for-profit corporation” incorporated in New York. The project was initially funded by a €72,258 grant from the Department of Foreign Affairs.