Haughey's 'tea and cash'

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The Independent Online
Supermarket magnate Ben Dunne dropped in for a cup of tea with former Irish prime minister Charles Haughey after a game of golf, handed him three bank drafts worth pounds 210,000 made out in fictitious names and said "Here's something for yourself," the payments to politicians inquiry in Dublin was told yesterday.

Mr Haughey had replied "Thanks, big fella," the businessman recalled during questioning at the second day of hearings at the judicial tribunal.

The exchange took place at the Taoiseach's Kinsealy mansion late in 1991. Dunne said he had the drafts from an Isle of Man bank with him in his pocket for "personal use," possibly a family matter.

"I was playing golf in Baltray and was very conscious of (the drafts)," Mr Dunne said. "Later I rang Charlie Haughey and said: 'I would like to drop in for a cup of tea with you'.

"At Kinsealy I got the impression that he was just not himself," Dunne recalled. The Taoiseach had seemed very depressed. "Under no circumstances did Mr Haughey ask (for money) or in any way say 'times are rough,' nothing like that," he said.

The 1991 payments followed earlier funds to help Mr Haughey pay off huge debts through intermediaries including John Furze, a Cayman Islands financier. Initial payment of pounds 500,000 in July 1988 was followed by pounds 150,000 and pounds 200,000 in 1989 and 1990.

Mr Dunne said he was told Mr Haughey's debts were pounds 700,000, but assumed his aid would reach pounds 1m.

Mr Haughey, who has declined to be legally represented at the tribunal, has denied receiving funds from Dunnes Stores or an associate company. The tribunal heard that when discovery was sought of his bank account details between 1987 and 1991 Mr Haughey provided only his wife's building society account book and correspondence with Dunnes Stores' solicitors in which he also rejected the claims.

Mr Dunne agreed with counsel for the tribunal, Michael Collins, that Mr Haughey never intervened on his or his family's behalf with any state body.

Earlier it was revealed that Mr Dunne's informal generosity had helped several parties, including Taoiseach John Bruton's Fine Gael party.