By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The Philippines’ Imelda Marcos is remembered for her infamous shoe collection and now Charles Haughey is doomed to suffer the same notoriety because of his penchant for shirts — top-of-the-line creations from the famous Charvet of Paris — bought with thousands of pounds worth of taxpayers’ money.
In its washing of the dirty laundry of the finances of the disgraced former taoiseach, the Moriarty Tribunal has made a connection between two payments totaling £15,800 to Charvet which correspond to debits from the party leaders’ fund.
The party leader’s fund is bankrolled by the taxpayer and the payments for the renowned luxury shirts were made in 1991.
It was a time when the nation collectively wore an economic hairshirt at Haughey’s urging. When the unemployed — and there were 250,000 signing on — tried to make ends meet on about £45 a week. The dole cash was hardly enough to buy the fine-spun Egyptian cotton of a Charvet shoulder to cry on.
Moriarty has already established that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was, unknown to himself, a party to Haughey’s lavish spending. As a joint signatory on the party leaders’ account, he signed blank checks in advance for Haughey.
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The account was funded by the Exchequer and Haughey appears to have used it as a slush fund for political donations, gifts and contributions for the liver transplant fund for his old friend the former Tanaiste Brian Lenihan.
Haughey spent freely from it. While urging tight belts at home, he spent almost twice the average industrial wage on settling his accounts with his shirt-maker alone.
A well-known lover of the French imperial style and of Paris, Haughey has been collared by the tribunal for spending £7,500 and £8,332 in February and December 1991 in Charvets.
As can be expected with an exclusive emporium that discretely caters to the super-rich and royalty, Charvets in the chic Place Verdome buttoned up when faced with queries from journalists.
But they did remember monsieur le premier ministre. They referred to him as "His Excellency." Such deference makes shopping with them an "intoxicating experience," according to those in the rag trade.
Charvet, which has been in business since 1838, offers shirts in more than 600 fabrics. Customers have ranged from the emperor Napoleon to the royalty and super-rich of today.
Political correspondents have recalled covering visits of Haughey to Paris in the 1980s. On one occasion, an entourage, which included the ambassador to France, officials and then Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Lenihan, went shopping with him in two limousines.
In one shop, Haughey imperiously introduced his bemused companions as his security detail and all were presented with a tie in honor of the occasion.
It now appears former supermarket boss Ben Dunne gave Haughey about £2 million in gifts and not just the £1.3 million established previously.
Taking Dunne’s cash was one thing but wearing his St. Bernard brand shirts was quite another matter.
Ben’s father and Haughey did not get on. The differences between them are reputed to date from a row in the 1960s — about shirts. Apparently Haughey objected to Dunne displaying unbecoming nylon drip-dry shirts at a trade exhibition stand in New York.
The sartorial spending has hit the headlines and caused a renewed outburst of anger against Haughey, who is now 74. His pretensions to grandeur have spawned a small industry of shirt jokes in what has been yet another dreadful week for him.
The courts hit him and his family with a legal bill for unsuccessful challenges which sought to scupper Moriarty’s probing. It may cost them in the region of £500,000.
It was yet another body blow for the political pensioner. He already has legal costs from the previous McCracken tribunal and will face a similar bill when Moriarty is finished.
As new evidence emerges of yet more cash gifts he received, his tax liability also soars. In addition, he faces criminal charges alleging he hindered and obstructed the McCracken Tribunal.
There is also continuing probing of who bailed him out to the tune of £750,000 when he settled his £1.14 million overdraft with AIB in 1980.
The bank had initially welcomed his custom as he was a KBI (key business influencer).
The Lenihan money
From the point of view of what little reputation Haughey has left with the public, the most explosive allegations concern his care and expenditure of funds donated to treat the illness of the highly popular Lenihan. He received a liver transplant in the world famous Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
Another former taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, made clear last week that it is the most combustible of issues for the beleaguered Haughey.
"That’s an area that’s really driving people mad. If it is proofed up and if it does stack up that money collected for medical expenses for a colleague was spent in any other way — if that should come out at the tribunal — people will just not forgive that, they won’t.
"I can tell you, from what I hear, that is really the straw that is breaking the camel’s back for a lot of solid supporters. I wouldn’t forgive it and I don’t think anybody else would either," Reynolds told RTE.
Earlier this year, when Moriarty began to tease out the sources of donations for Lenihan and how they were spent, Haughey took the unusual step of issuing a statement.
"The funds raised were properly applied. A full statement on the utilization of the fund subscribed will be made later."
Haughey went public after it was revealed the then Irish Permanent building society boss gave him £30,000 — £20,000 of which was for Lenihan’s medical expenses.
The money was "inadvertently" lodged in the account of Celtic Helicopters, run by his son Ciaran. Haughey said the money was withdrawn on the same day and lodged in the party leaders’ account, where other Lenihan donations also went.
However, Moriarty’s counsel can’t find any record of the lodgment. An AIB official said it was "more probable than not" that the check was cashed over the counter and not lodged at all.
The tribunal is continuing to try to sort out what went in and out of the party leaders’ account. It appears that about £220,000 was lodged in 1989 on top of the Exchequer allowance.
The Lenihan payments seem to have amounted to about £82,000. What the forensic probing is trying to establish is how much of the money was given for Lenihan, was there a surplus when the medical bills were paid and, if so, what was it spent on?