Haughey let banker deal with finances

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Charles Haughey yesterday denied that while he was Taoiseach he knew his close friend and banker had raised pounds 1.3m to pay off debts incurred by his regal lifestyle and that the money had been obtained from stores chief Ben Dunne.

Mr Haughey, 71, who was Taoiseach four times between 1979 and 1992, amassed trappings of wealth ranging from a 300-acre estate, a private island and holiday home to racehorses, works of art and a yacht.

Mr Haughey's appearance in the witness box was the climax of a tribunal set up in February to investigate payments to politicians by Mr Dunne, the former head of Dunnes Stores.

The former Fianna Fail party leader said he had only learnt of the payments from his banker, Des Traynor, in 1993, a year after he had resigned as premier. He added: "I want to say I did not have a lavish lifestyle. My work was my lifestyle."

He said Mr Traynor, who died in 1994, had taken over full control of all matters concerning his personal finances around 1960 and had "complete discretion" to act on his behalf "without reference back to me". He added: "I never had to concern myself about my personal finances. With hindsight, it is clear that I should have involved myself to a greater degree."

Pressed on how he could not have known of the Dunnes funding, he said: "Des Traynor was a man of few words. He just dealt with what he had to do." He insisted that Mr Traynor had seen it as "his personal responsibility to ensure that I would be free to devote my time and ability to public life and would not be distracted by financial considerations."

Mr Haughey said Mr Dunne "did not seek, nor was he granted, any favours. Mr Dunne did it without any expectation of reward." He claimed that in hindsight had he known of the approach made to Mr Dunne he would not have authorised it.

Asked if his earlier false statement accounts to the tribunal were "pretty economic", Mr Haughey replied :"I hate that phrase. It has been flogged to death."

When tribunal counsel Denis McCullough, citing his eventual admission on 30 June that he had "probably" received the pounds 1.3m, asked if that meant "you then had your hands up ?" Mr Haughey replied "Fully." Mr McCullough quipped: "Not quite Mr Haughey. Perhaps at shoulder height." The former premier nodded, smiling.

Explaining his earlier lack of co-operation with the tribunal, he said: "I was concerned at the effect these payments would have for me in the public mind."

Mr Haughey paid ironic tribute to the "thorough and diligent" international investi- gation into his personal finances carried out by the tribunal team, including probing secret numbered bank accounts in foreign currencies held on his behalf, which had forced him to reverse his initial flat denial of receiving the pounds 1.3m.

The tribunal's terms of reference precluded inquiries into possible payments to Mr Haughey from other business figures. It is restricted solely to payments made by Mr Dunne when head of Dunnes Stores.