Former Irish PM Ahern’s explanation of payments untrue-inquiry

DUBLIN,  (Reuters) – Former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern failed to give a truthful account of the source of payments he received, an inquiry concluded yesterday in a long-awaited report into the dealings of one of the architects of Ireland’s ill-fated economic boom.

The verdict comes four years after the economy collapsed under the strain of a decade-long housing and banking boom, cultivated by Ahern and his Fianna Fail party, and a year after the party was ejected from power by angry voters.

One of Europe’s longest-serving premiers, Ahern was widely praised for his work in resolving a three-decade conflict in Northern Ireland but his star had been on the wane since allegations were made that he received money from businessmen.

Ahern said he never accepted a bribe but that was not enough to stop the party he led for almost 15 years from proposing his expulsion as a member, saying he fell short of the standard of personal behaviour expected of a holder of high office.

“I have never received a corrupt payment and I have never done anything to demean any office I have held,” Ahern said in a statement after the release of the report.

“I know that some people will feel that some aspects of my personal finances are unusual and that in retrospect it is obvious I was wrong not to have paid more attention to my financial affairs and records.”

The government said it would refer the report to the police and the director of public prosecutions. The findings described the actions of two former Fianna Fail figures, including one-time European Commissioner Padraig Flynn, as corrupt but stopped short of using the same word in reference to Ahern.

Legal experts said evidence from the tribunal could be used in court, but a prosecution of Ahern over his testimony would be very difficult to secure.

Set up in 1997, the Mahon Tribunal probed the relationships between politicians and property developers after builders made vast profits on land re-zoned as commercial.

In its report it said corruption was “endemic and systemic” at every level of government in Ireland in the late 1990s. Ahern was Taoiseach, or prime minister, from 1997 to 2008.

It investigated allegations that Ahern accepted money from a developer in return for favours, a charge he rejected. He said his finances were complex but not improper during the turmoil that followed the breakdown of his marriage in the 1990s.

Ahern had admitted to accepting an envelope filled with 8,000 pounds ($12,700) in 50-pound notes from businessmen after speaking at a function in Manchester in 1994, which he said was his speaking fee. In late 2006 it emerged friends and businessmen had lent him 50,000 euros ($66,000).

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