By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Allegations that passports-for-sale cash from an American millionaire couple seeking citizenship was “diverted” from an “investment” account into a Fianna Fail party account in another bank six years ago have been strongly denied by the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
Media reports had claimed the Flood Tribunal investigating allegations of corruption had been made aware of the _10,500 transaction by former Foreign Minister Ray Burke during informal discussions about granting him immunity in return for his full co-operation.
The Flood Tribunal is investigating claims that Burke received payments totaling _110,000. He has denied any wrongdoing.
It was alleged that Burke said Ahern had been aware of the transaction and that the immunity offer was later withdrawn.
In a special Dail debate, an angry Ahern categorically dismissed the allegations saying nothing “underhand, deceitful or criminal” had taken place and everybody involved had acted with “integrity, honesty and professionalism.”
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He also was adamant he had not played any role in deciding on any immunity applications for the tribunal, saying they were solely a matter for the director of public prosecutions.
Fine Gael leader John Bruton had asked him if he had any knowledge of the withdrawal of the immunity offer to Burke. “I have no knowledge of any of these matters,” Ahern said.
He dismissed suggestions that the money transferred was the equivalent of putting Industrial Development Authority money into the party.
“This matter is even a bigger ball of smoke than the other ones I have had to deal with in the last few days,” Ahern said. “It is particularly unhelpful in my opinion that newspapers would use leaked material of an alleged nature to try and build up a head of political steam, to damage this Government at anytime, but especially in the midst of most serious negotiations regarding the Peace Process and EU affairs.”
The controversial passports-for-sale scheme has been discontinued by the Government after allegations of irregularities.
Ahern told the Dail that between 1989 and 1994 there were 66 investors. From 1989 to date, 163 people, including 62 spouses and children, had been granted citizenship in return for investments totaling _95 million.
The passport files from the Department of Justice are with the Moriarty Tribunal investigating payments to former Taoiseach Charles Haughey and Transport Minister Michael Lowry, according to the taoiseach.
Ahern said a “reputable American businessman and his wife” — later revealed to be Florida based Jerry and Elena Lindzon — opened two investment accounts in the government-owned Industrial Credit Corporation bank in 1991 with the intention of getting a passport.
A third account with _10,000 was also opened as a joint deposit account with Irish businessman Brian O’Carroll.
Ahern said that in July 1993 O’Carroll transferred _10,524.59 (the extra money was interested earned) from the joint account — after being approached by a Fianna Fail national executive finance committee member — to a current account in the name of Reynolds/Ahern in the Bank of Ireland in Baggot Street.
This was a fundraising account in the name of the party leader/trustees and party treasurer.
The cash transfer was an interest free loan, which Ahern said, was always repayable on request. It was part of a scheme that was intended to run for three years from 1993. The cash involved has not been repaid. No request has been made to repay it.
The loan scheme was part of efforts to help bail out Fianna Fail’s severe financial difficulties at the time. The party is believed to have owed about _3 million and the scheme had raised about _300,000.
Ahern claimed there had been repeated and urgent representations made in the case of the Lindzon passport application and all of them came from Labour leader Ruairi Quinn.
Ahern said the investment monies were invested in potter Stephen Pearce’s Penncastle ceramics company in Shanagarry, Co Cork.
The passport for Mrs Lindzon was issued by then Justice Minister Maire Geoghegan-Quinn on 2 November 1994. On 17 November Labour ministers walked out of the Fianna Fail-Labour coalition and the Rainbow coalition took over on 15 December.