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Political organ

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — Disgraced former Taoiseach Charles Haughey has moved to attempt to clarify allegations that he diverted money from his friend Brian Lenihan’s medical fund for his own use.

Full clarification of the controversy will hang over him while the Tribunal investigating his financial affairs is in recess for the rest of the summer.

The Moriarty Tribunal had been told a £20,000 donation for Lenihan’s liver transplant was diverted into bank accounts connected with the Haughey family.

For many, Haughey’s reputation is already beyond redemption, but if it is established that he also dipped into a medical fund for his longtime ally to maintain his lavish lifestyle, even the most loyal of defenders might have second thoughts.

The Tribunal was told that the Irish Permanent Building Society sent Haughey a £20,000 check intended as a donation to help pay Lenihan’s medical expenses. The check stub was marked B. Lenihan.

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With another Irish Permanent check for £10,000 — a political donation to Haughey — the £20,000 ended up being lodged to a Celtic Helicopters bank account in 1989. Celtic Helicopters is jointly owned by one of Haughey’s sons, Ciaran.

Lenihan, who died in 1995, had been a longtime faithful supporter of Haughey. He needed the cash when he was diagnosed with a serious liver illness and a transplant was his only hope of survival.

Lenihan was hugely popular and a number of funds collected money to help pay for the expensive transplant procedures in the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in 1989. He flew to the U.S. in Michael Smurfit’s jet.

When the Tribunal was told about the transaction, Haughey took the unusual step of issuing a statement through his lawyers.

"It was Charles Haughey as leader of Fianna Fail who initiated and

spearheaded the humanitarian project of raising a fund," the statement said.

"The funds raised were properly applied. A full statement on the utilization of the fund subscribed will be made later when we have

access to the records."

Last week, he issued a second statement saying the money had been "inadvertently" lodged in the helicopter company account.

Haughey said the money was withdrawn on the same day it was lodged with Celtic in June 1989 and some days later was lodged in the Fianna Fail party leader’s account where contributions to the Lenihan fund were being held.

The Tribunal is examining the party leader’s account. About £200,000 more than the leadership allowance was lodged in the account in 1989.

It is understood the Tribunal has received documentation on the former tanaiste’s medical expenses from the Lenihan family and also from the Voluntary Health Insurance company.

The Lenihan family has not commented on the matter, but the diversion of the Lenihan funds led to considerable media analysis. In one series of articles the Irish Independent quoted what was described as a longtime critic of Haughey, as asking, "Did he steal the pennies off a corpse’s eyes?"

The newspaper’s coverage prompted a letter to the editor from another of Haughey’s sons, Conor, which indicated the sensitivity of the matter.

He attacked the "most twisted, biased, vindictive, unbalanced, unfair distortion of facts I have ever read."

An "incensed" Conor Haughey never referred to the former taoiseach as his father, always using the formal "Mr. Haughey" throughout the letter.

The letter said that without waiting to hear further evidence or giving his father a chance to put his side of the story, the newspaper had "decided he was guilty and proceeded to convict, hang, draw, quarter and bury him on one snippet of evidence."

The Independent pointed out they had written to the former taoiseach and offered him the chance to reply but he declined to respond.

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