By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — After revelations that one of Dublin’s top public officials was on the take for years and had amassed a fortune in bank accounts, the Flood Tribunal probing allegations of planning corruption moved to the Channel Island of Guernsey this week.
It is due to hear evidence from a key witness — the elderly and ailing building millionaire Joseph Murphy Sr.
The reclusive Murphy, 82, is in bad health and is unable to travel to Dublin to appear as a witness at the hearings in Dublin Castle, so the tribunal chairman, Justice Feargus Flood, decided to go to him.
Following appeals from the media, a High Court judicial review overturned a decision by Flood to exclude reporters and the public from the Guernsey hearings on the basis of Murphy’s ill-health.
Lands in north Dublin at the centre of tribunal’s investigations were sold by Murphy’s JMSE (Joseph Murphy Structural Engineers) to the Bovale Developments company.
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A falling out between Murphy and one of his executives, the elderly James Gogarty, about his entitlements and pension, led to Gogarty becoming the tribunal’s chief whistle-blower about payments to politicians and public servants.
If there had been no rift between the two octogenarians there would have been no tribunal.
Gogarty claims he paid money to former Foreign Affairs Minister Ray Burke and former Dublin assistant city and county manager George Redmond on behalf of "Senior," as he called Murphy.
Last week, it was revealed at the tribunal that Redmond had accumulated nearly £500,000 in 33 bank accounts by the time he had retired in 1989 on a salary of £29,000. In the previous year alone the inflow to his bank accounts was £171,000 — more than his total net income from 1980-89.
Redmond claimed he received about £25,000 from Gogarty/the Murphy group for advice and introductions.
Last February, Redmond was arrested at Dublin Airport after arriving on a flight from the Isle of Man. Criminal Assets Bureau staff seized about £300,000 in cash he was carrying and he is now facing tax charges.
He claimed he never asked for cash but people gave him gifts of money for "advice."
Murphy emigrated from Ireland to Britain in the late 1930s or early ’40s and made a fortune in the construction industry. He has lived on Guernsey since 1976.
A voice from the grave in the form of an affidavit from the new dead former chief executive of the Murphy Group, Liam Conroy, was read into the record of the tribunal last week. It made serious allegations of tax evasion and currency control violations against Murphy and his company’s operations.
Murphy is expected to strong refute the allegations at this week’s hearings.
Conroy, who died last year, had sworn the document in 1989 in unfair dismissal proceedings against Murphy in the Isle of Man. Murphy had substantial assets in the Isle of Man.
The Murphy group had gone to the courts in an effort to block the tribunal’s use of the document.
Murphy had demanded total secrecy about his affairs because of potential tax problems, Conroy claimed. Consequently he could not use secretarial services of any kind or commit anything to writing.
Conroy claimed that Murphy had told him of evasions of UK tax and exchange controls and of depositing large sums in Switzerland in the names of Liberian registered companies.
He said he had also told him of tax evasion on bank accounts in London and in Ireland and of breaches of currency regulations with cash exported from Ireland.
He also claimed Murphy had undeclared income from a foundation in Liechtenstein.
When he joined the group in 1983 there were nine trading companies and the staff were all blindly loyal to Murphy, Conroy’s affidavit claimed.