Tax evasion at heart of allegations by whistleblower

Prominent politicians at centre of claims by department official

Guinness & Mahon board member Des Traynor. Photograph: Joe St Leger

Guinness & Mahon board member Des Traynor. Photograph: Joe St Leger

 

At the heart of the allegations put forward by Department of Enterprise and Jobs official Gerry Ryan is a contention that a number of prominent former Fianna Fáil politicians and at least one former prominent Fine Gael politician engaged in significant tax evasion over an extended period of time dating back to the 1970s.

Separately he has maintained that his investigations into these issues were blocked.

The allegations set out by Ryan are linked directly to the Ansbacher accounts scandal which emerged nearly 15 years ago.

Ansbacher was a bank in the Cayman Islands, but the nominally offshore money in the deposits was in fact held in Guinness & Mahon Bank on Dublin’s College Green.

Official investigations found that the Cayman trusts were in fact under the control of the Irish people who placed money in them, rather than the Cayman trustees who should properly have had control. The supposedly offshore money could be withdrawn by wealthy depositors at Guinness & Mahon’s premises.

An official report in 2002 identified about 200 Ansbacher account-holders.

However, Ryan contended he had uncovered evidence in 2003 and 2004 that former Fianna Fáil and some Fine Gael politicians were the beneficial owners of Cayman accounts in a secret Ansbacher ledger, the details of which had never come into the public domain.

Ryan maintained in a briefing document which he forwarded to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that he had obtained this evidence from interviews conducted with former Guinness & Mahon personnel.

He said a transcript of an interview with one member of the bank staff indicated she had kept a list of the names of the Fianna Fáil politicians and a separate list of “their substantial Cayman account balances”.

He said the accounts department staff member would match up these lists with Sellotape when Des Traynor, who was on the board of Guinness & Mahon, would ask for a list of the balances.

“The listing of names of the beneficial owners of these Cayman accounts was always kept in a separate safe to the list of the balances so that, if one fell into the wrong hands, no one would be able to match the senior politicians with their account balances,” he wrote. This was referred to as the “black briefcase”.

Secret ledger

Ryan said a former bank official had stated that on a number of occasions in 1977 and 1978 she had had sight of a list of names and account balances in the “very secret Cayman ledger”.

He said the former bank official had identified the names of nine senior Fianna Fáil politicians on the list.

These individuals are named in Ryan’s document given to the PAC.

The bank official also maintained, according to Ryan, that she had recognised the name of a prominent Fine Gael politician as being the beneficial owner of one of the accounts in the secret Cayman ledger.

He also contended that there had been Fine Gael connections to Traynor which had not been examined by various investigations over the years.

He also said a judge had been a client of Traynor’s in Guinness & Mahon.

When details of the dossier emerged yesterday the initial reaction in political circles was that given Ryan had cited the new whistleblowers’ legislation he must be given a fair hearing.

This could happen at a closed hearing of the PAC – similar to that afforded to Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe – with the transcript of the meeting remaining private.

The Oireachtas said PAC members “received a copy of what may well be a ‘protected disclosure’ for the purposes of the Protected Disclosure Act 2014”.

“This is the first occasion on which documentation has been received by the members in question under the 2014 Act,” the statement added, saying the PAC would take legal advice on the issue next week.

There was also surprise at some of the names included in the dossier, but those involved in the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats government, during the term of which Ryan carried out his investigations, insisted they had dealt with his allegations appropriately. One senior figure from that period said all the claims had been passed to the relevant authorities.

While there was a feeling last night among Government and Fianna Fáil figures that there may be nothing much to fear from the dossier, it still has the potential to cause political controversy.