By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — After months of anticipation, former Taoiseach Charles Haughey faces a grueling ordeal in coming days when he is due to be questioned at the Moriarty Tribunal on the circumstances surrounding an estimated £8.5 million in gifts he received during his years in office.
Haughey, who’s 74, has been asked to be available beginning this Friday, July 21. Due to his age and health problems — he is believed to be suffering from prostate cancer — he is expected to give evidence for only a few hours a day.
Since the Oireachtas set up the tribunal in September 1997 under High Court judge Michael Moriarty, Haughey has mounted several legal challenges against it in the High and Supreme Courts.
A previous tribunal found Haughey, who was taoiseach on three occasions in the 1980s and early ’90s, received a further £1.3 million from former department store boss Ben Dunne.
It has since emerged that Haughey received at least £700,000 more from Dunne. The Moriarty lawyers will want to know why he never declared the extra payments to the first tribunal under judge Brian McCracken.
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As a result of the McCracken tribunal, Haughey is currently selling land to pay a £1,009,435 tax bill on the initial Dunne payments.
Haughey is also facing criminal charges of hindering and obstructing the first tribunal.
The case has been delayed indefinitely because a Circuit Court judge ruled prejudicial publicity would currently make it impossible for Haughey to get a fair trial. The judge’s decision is to be challenged by the Director of Public Prosecutions in the High Court on Oct. 24.
Revelations about the scale of cash gifts Haughey received from top business figure in Ireland and abroad has led to a crisis of confidence in the political system.
Haughey is regarded as the political mentor of the current taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and there is concern in the Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrat coalition about what may emerge from his evidence.
Haughey, who resigned as taoiseach in February 1992, faces an arduous grilling on the secret payments.
Lawyers will be asking questions about possible motivation for the payments — whether those who gave him cash received any State benefits, favors, contracts or positions as a result.
He will also be closely questioned about the funds collected in 1989 to pay for the liver transplant in the U.S. for his former tanaiste and close friend, Brian Lenihan.
The Lenihan fund questions will be linked with a probe of his use of the State-funded party leader’s fund during his years at the top of Fianna Fail and if funds from it ended up paying the bills for his lavish lifestyle.
In the period 1984-92, about £1 million was given by the Exchequer to the account.
Also under investigation are the circumstances under which Haughey ran up an overdraft of £1.134 million with the country’s biggest financial institution, Allied Irish Banks.
It was paid off in his first month as taoiseach with a payment of £750,000, even though the bank had guarantees worth in excess of the entire debt.
Haughey’s involvement in the now-defunct "passports-for-sale" plan will also come under the microscope. The international super-rich paid a million pounds for an Irish passport and irregularities in the operation of the scheme were uncovered.