Walking bank who financed Haughey's secret lifestyle

 

The Saturday Profile: Some of the best-known, and some less so, among Ireland's wealthy elite will be exposed next week when the names of the Ansbacher account-holders are revealed. Colm Keena looks at the career of Des Traynor, the man who started it all - the tax-dodger's bagman

There is a story told about the late Des Traynor and the first day he sat in on a board meeting in Guinness & Mahon bank on College Green in Dublin.

Traynor, a graduate of Westland Row Christian Brothers School and the son of a garage-owner from Grand Canal Street, found himself surrounded by toffs.

Some had travelled from London for the meeting and had distinctly upper-class accents. The chairman of the board, the late John Guinness, was a descendant of one of the founders of the bank and a relative of the more famous brewers of Guinness stout.

A tea lady came into the room offering Indian or China. Traynor opted for China and then sat watching while all the others chose Indian.

However, when the men sitting around the table got down to business Traynor found that, class differences aside, they weren't so different from him after all. They shared a common interest - money.

The rise of Traynor in the Irish corporate world forms part, not just of the economic history of the Republic but also of its political history. It is easy to see his arrival in Guinness & Mahon as emblematic of the rise to the top of some of the self-made men who prospered under the Lemass government and Irish independence generally.

Traynor was a key adviser for some of these people, Fianna Fáil supporters who had not come from a privileged background but had transformed themselves into multimillionaires.

As Patrick Gallagher, son of the late Matt Gallagher, said some years ago in an interview, these men set out to replace the Anglo-Irish in the large houses and estates that peppered the Irish countryside.

Some championed and funded Charles Haughey, while at the same time using Traynor as their closest financial adviser. It is because of these connections that concerns arose about the existence of a golden circle.

The diminutive Traynor was 20 years old when he became the first articled clerk of the then fledgling accountancy firm of Haughey Boland & Co in 1951.

He was articled to Haughey, then an ambitious young accountant and political activist who, in September 1951, was to marry Maureen Lemass, daughter of the minister for industry and commerce and future taoiseach, Sean Lemass.

Haughey Boland acted for many of the big business figures who prospered during the Lemass era, when Fianna Fáil embraced capitalism and materialism wholeheartedly.

It was through his work with Haughey Boland that Traynor came to the attention of Guinness & Mahon. He worked for a number of clients who made use of the bank and was part of the very difficult negotiations which led to the creation of one of the Republic's most successful manufacturing companies, Cement Roadstone Holdings (CRH).

The negotiations involved the bank, as did another difficult deal with New Ireland Assurance, the board of which Traynor also joined.

When Traynor joined the board of the bank he had already made contact with a Cayman Islands banker, the late John Furze, through his, Traynor's, work with Haughey Boland. Traynor, working with Guinness, set about establishing a network of offshore subsidiaries of Guinness & Mahon which would in time become the key elements of what we now know as the Ansbacher Deposits.

The key subsidiary was Guinness Mahon Cayman Trust. A number of the early users of these offshore banks were people and companies Traynor had come to know during his 18-year career with Haughey Boland.

Lemass became leader of Fianna Fáil in 1959. A year later he appointed his able son-in-law to the position of parliamentary secretary to the minister for justice and Haughey retired as an active partner of Haughey Boland.

According to Patrick Gallagher a circle of successful businessmen who admired Haughey decided they would finance his lifestyle while he pursued his political career. Traynor, who was financial adviser to many of these people, was charged with the task of making sure Haughey got the money he needed.

When Haughey was elected to the leadership of Fianna Fáil in December 1979, he had a €1.45 million debt to Allied Irish Banks. Traynor was involved in the effort to wipe out that debt.

He raised money from benefactors and negotiated with AIB. Patrick Gallagher provided €381,000 of the €952,500 plus which was raised and used for the settlement.

When Haughey returned as Taoiseach in 1987, having been out of office for four years, Traynor again started to organise a whipround for his old friend. It was during this time that Ben Dunne offered to make substantial payments to Haughey, so that the then Taoiseach could avoid the danger of having to approach others and having the approaches become public knowledge.

In time Dunne would give Haughey more than €2.5 million. Ironically, it was because of payments to Haughey from Dunne that the Ansbacher deposits were eventually discovered.

By the time Traynor was soliciting money from Dunne Traynor was no longer with Guinness & Mahon. He resigned from the merchant bank in May 1986 and soon afterwards took up the position of chairman of CRH. He remained as chairman of Guinness Mahon Cayman Trust, which was soon to be bought by the Ansbacher group and renamed Ansbacher Cayman.

In his role as chairman of CRH he had an office in the company's headquarters on Fitzwilliam Square. He continued to run the Ansbacher deposits from this office, using a computer and files kept there.

By the late 1980s more than half of the board of the company were doing business with him. This seems to have been how he operated, collecting customers as he strolled through his working life.Traynor, aside from his other activities, was something of a walking bank. People would literally meet him in public places and hand him envelopes and briefcases stuffed with money and bank drafts. He then lodged these to his secret accounts.

People contacted him when they wanted to make a withdrawal, and he arranged for cash or drafts to be ready for collection in Guinness & Mahon, Irish Intercontinental Bank or the CRH headquarters on Fitzwilliam Square.

In the run-up to Christmas 1987 he arranged for €75,000 in cash to be collected from Guinness & Mahon on behalf of Haughey.

It has never been revealed why Haughey needed so much money, although one source has said the former Taoiseach was prone to making large cash withdrawals around the time of horse-racing meetings.

Haughey and Traynor remained friends right up to Traynor's death in May 1994.

Some Saturdays every month the CRH chairman would drive from his home on Howth Road out to Haughey's mansion in Kinsealy. They would discuss their affairs, including Haughey's Ansbacher account, in the library. Often other senior business figures who were also long time associates and supporters would join them.

Traynor was married and had six children. His six-bedroom family home on the Howth Road had large gardens front and back and was substantially extended by the architect Sam Stephenson.

The house had a large reception hall and four reception rooms, and is described as being ideal for large parties. The main bedroom ran the width of the house and had an en-suite bathroom with separate sauna.

He died a rich man, the secret bank he'd run for 24 years still a secret. Within three years, however, the secret was out, and next week the entrails of his secret bank will be laid out in public for anyone who wants to pore over them.

The huge report compiled by the Ansbacher inspectors is to go on sale through Government Publications. Last Monday in the High Court a barrister for Traynor's estate said there would beconsequences for his estate arising from the report.

When he died, aged 62, Traynor left an estate valued in Probate Office documents at €2.2 million. As well as shares he had over €130,000 on deposit in Guinness & Mahon and Irish Intercontinental Bank, the two Irish banks he'd used for his Ansbacher deposits schemes, and €520,000 with ICS Building Society.

There was no mention in the documents of the Cayman Islands. If he were still alive it is likely Traynor would be facing more than a tax liability next week.

He would be facing calls for prosecution and the possibility of imprisonment.