Irish crackdown on corruption snares former justice minister

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The Independent Online

A former Irish justice minister was jailed for six months for tax evasion yesterday, becoming the latest casualty of an official crackdown on political and financial corruption.

A former Irish justice minister was jailed for six months for tax evasion yesterday, becoming the latest casualty of an official crackdown on political and financial corruption.

Ray Burke, 61, who also served as Ireland's foreign minister, had pleaded guilty to two charges of failing to declare a total of Ir£116,000 in a single year, 1993.

As a senior figure in Fianna Fail, the party on which most of the Irish corruption allegations have centred, his lengthy political career was marked by persistent suspicions of financial wrongdoing. For years the belief was general in media and other circles that he had been "on the take" on a major scale, amassing considerable personal wealth in the culture of the surreptitious "brown envelope".

He was appointed to the cabinet by the current Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, who said he checked out allegations made against Mr Burke and had satisfied himself they were groundless. Mr Ahern later said he felt saddened and betrayed by Mr Burke's behaviour.

Mr Burke robustly defended himself but after a fresh wave of allegations in 1997 he resigned from office and dropped out of politics. His name featured prominently at corruption tribunal hearings, one of which concluded in an interim report that he had accepted a number of corrupt payments.

The evidence in yesterday's case came to light when a search of his home in 2000 uncovered a folder giving details of building society accounts which had not been declared to the revenue authorities.

He had accounts in the Isle of Man and benefited from a company based in the Channel Islands called Caviar Ltd. The belief is that the full extent of his activities has yet to emerge.

Judge Des Hogan said a jail term was mandatory because of Burke's prominence as a former cabinet minister and because he had repeatedly and knowingly betrayed the public trust. The ex-minister faced up to five years in jail, but the judge cited his age, his current tax compliance, and the fact that he was suffering from anxiety and depression as reasons for imposing a relatively lenient sentence.

Mr Burke's problems will by no means end with his jail term. Having already paid large sums of money to the Republic's Criminal Assets Bureau to cover unpaid taxes, he now faces legal bills of €10m (£7m) arising from a corruption tribunal. His application for costs was turned down on the grounds that he failed to co-operate with the work of the tribunal.

His former party leader, the three-times prime minister Charles Haughey, has already been disgraced in the corruption investigations. After denying many allegations, he eventually admitted accepting several million pounds. Mr Haughey avoided a prison sentence due to age and infirmity, though he was subsequently photographed in surprisingly good health.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Mary Harney, described yesterday's case as a watershed in Irish life, saying it vindicated the work of the corruption tribunals.

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