Ireland’s high rollers named and shamed

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ALMOST 200 prominent Irish business people and politicians were publicly named yesterday when a long-awaited report into tax evasion was finally published.

The ‘Ansbacher report’ exposed those who had invested in an illegal bank of the same name in an attempt to dodge paying income tax over a prolonged period. The bank was operated by the financial advisor of the former prime minister, Charles Haughey, himself no stranger to financial impropriety.

The report found that Ansbacher Cayman bank was constituted as an offshore bank but was run as a Dublin bank, gaining illegal tax concessions. It also found that individuals and corporations associated with Ansbacher conducted their affairs with intent to defraud the revenue, may have committed a number of criminal offences, including conspiracy, were in breach of company law and various sections of the tax code and engaged in unlicensed banking.

Among those named as account holders in the report are Haughey, Sam Stephenson, Dublin’s best-known architect who was vilified for the destruction of Dublin’s Georgian architecture and the construction of 1960s carbuncles, Ireland’s most prominent hoteliers, the deceased PV Doyle and his son David, the racehorse trainer and son-in-law of Haughey, John Mulhearn and the former head of Ireland’s Central Bank, Ken O’Reilly Hyland.

The report is the result of a five-year investigation which has caught the imagination of the Irish public. Its publication has been eagerly awaited and yesterday the national broadcaster, RTE, cleared much of its TV and radio schedules to allow prolonged discussion of its contents. At just after 9.30am yesterday, the 9,000-page document went on sale for 20 in a Dublin government office.

Brendan Kilkenny, 23, was one of a crowd of about 60 people who queued in the rain to get the report. "This document says we’re finally getting somewhere tackling corruption in this country. And it’s about time, the fat cats can’t get away with what they like any more."

The scandal first came to light five years ago when a tribunal of inquiry investigating the financial affairs of the discredited Haughey uncovered details of his secret accounts in a bank called Ansbacher Cayman.

Subsequent inquires found that some of Haughey’s closest friends and associates had similar accounts, and the name Ansbacher has since become synonymous with a culture of corruption which pervaded the top echelons of Irish society in the 70s, 80s and into the 90s.

Haughey’s accountant, Des Traynor, who was the chairperson of Ansbacher Cayman bank, allowed clients to siphon money out of the state through a network of offshore subsidiaries. The report stated he would often meet his customers in the street or bars and relieve them of briefcases or parcels full of cash. He is thought to have collected hundreds of millions of pounds.

Investigators found he tried to protect his clients’ identities by assigning them numbers. After putting their names into a computer, he ordered his secretary to change these to code.

Traynor died in 1994, but most of the holders of Ansbacher accounts are still alive. However, the authors of the report, which cost 2.5m to compile, admitted yesterday it was unlikely that the investigation will result in many successful prosecutions. They warned of the difficulty in retrieving the unpaid taxes because of the time elapsed, and the fact many of those involved now reside outside Ireland. The report also stated not all account holders had been trying to evade tax.

Yesterday the deputy prime minister, Mary Harney, who originally ordered the report five years ago, described the conclusions as a "damning insight into a world of conspiracy, fraud, tax evasion over a long number of years". She said it exposed the activities of Ansbacher Cayman bank as little more than a charade, a sham and a legal fiction. Harney was formerly in Fianna Fail, but left in the mid-1980s to help form the Progressive Democrats, after a series of disputes with then-leader Haughey.

The Irish parliament has been recalled from its summer break to discuss the findings of the report on Wednesday. Although Haughey was the former leader of prime minister Bertie Ahern’s Fianna Fail party, the current establishment entirely disassociates itself from him. Still, the report is embarrassing for Ahern, with at least two other former Fianna Fail politicians named as account holders.

On legal advice, a decision has been taken not to publish the findings on the internet. However copies of the report have been forwarded to the revenue commissioners in Britain and the United States.

The Ansbacher report was undertaken by Ireland’s High Court Inspectors under the Companies Act 1990. A court challenge by several illegal account holders to protect their privacy failed last week.

Among the clients named in the report are some of the most powerful and influential men from different areas of Irish life.

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