Bertie's banker and loads of cash

Bertie's banker, Philip Murphy, gave evidence to the Planning Tribunal in November. The evidence revealed even more curious aspects to the Taoiseach's financial affairs, including evidence that Bertie Ahern handed over to his banker IR£72,500 in cash from December 1993 to August 1994
By Vincent Browne

Bertie Ahern's former contact with his bank, AIB Upper O'Connell St, Philip Murphy, got a terrible pasting at the Planning Tribunal over two days in November an his evidence did further damage to the Taoiseach, however unintended that was on the part of Philip Murphy.

Philip Murphy was assistant manager at the bank from 1982 until his retirement in May 1995. He first came across Bertie Ahern at a book launch in 1986 and there Bertie asked him if he could be of assistance to Celia Larkin. Mr Murphy obliged.

Then in December 1993 Bertie Ahern phoned him, apparently out of the blue, to enquire if a loan could be arranged. Philip Murphy was chuffed to be dealing with the Minister for Finance (Bertie was Minister for Finance from 1992 to December 1994) and arranged for a meeting that day or shortly afterwards at the bank. The meeting took place just two days before Christmas, 23 December 1993, and Philip Murphy introduced the Minister to the bank manager, Michael Burns, but it was Philip Murphy who made the arrangements regarding the loan. Bertie told him he needed money to pay off legal bills arising from the litigation in relation to his marriage separation. He needed a bank draft for £12,813.61, another bank draft for £5,000 and a credit transfer into his wife's account of £1,302.36. This came to £19,115.97 in total.

This might seem unremarkable were it not for several curious elements to the arrangement.

First there was no application form filled out of the loan, as invariably was the case in such circumstances, certainly none that is now available. No statement by Bertie of his assets and liabilities or even his income. No security for the loan was asked for or offered.

Then there were no arrangements put in place for the repayment of the loan and in fact Bertie did not start to repay the loan until May 1995, by which time the loan plus interest had amounted to £21,896.30, that was 17 months after the loan was taken out.

Philip Murphy said that was the full extent of his dealings with Bertie Ahern on 23 December 1993. He said Bertie made no mention of having £50,000 in savings in his safe, nor of any other cash he might have had.

He told the Tribunal on 20 November he had no recollection of filling in an application form on 23 December 1993 but a while previously he told the Tribunal he did have a recollection of filling in an application form on that date. At one stage, counsel for the Tribunal, Henry Murphy SC, who conducted a brilliant examination of his namesake, said, “I think it's about time we got real here and about time that you faced up to the fact that you are giving evidence on oath”.

The absence of any written documentation in relation to this £19,115.97 loan meant that if anything had happened either to Bertie Ahern or Philip Murphy in the interim, before it was regularised 17 months later, the bank would have been left in a compromised position.

But then it emerged that there was another document on the bank file showing that Bertie Ahern opened a Special Savings Account on that very same day and Philip Murphy had himself filled in all the relevant details concerning that account in his own handwriting. This application was signed by Bertie Ahern. All on the same day that Bertie got an unsecured loan for £19,115.97, without having to make any declaration of any kind or sign anything or without there being any written evidence of the loan, aside from the bank drafts and the credit transfer.

But he had no recollection of Bertie Ahern opening this second account on that day.

He did recall Bertie coming back into the bank on 30 December – a week afterwards – and then opening the savings account.

And a curious feature of this application is that while it seems obvious that the application was made out and signed on 23 December 1993 there was a subsequent effort to change the date to 30 December 1993 but in fact Bertie Ahern did not deposit any funds in this account until 30 December 1993. Nonetheless it appears he had some anticipation of having funds to lodge in a special savings account the following week for otherwise why would a special savings account have been opened on 23 December 1993?

And on 30 December 1993 Bertie arrived back with £15,000 in cash and a cheque for £2,500 and a bank draft for £5,000 bringing the total to £22,500 – this, allegedly, was the monies he received on 26 December 1993 from the first batch of friends, the first “dig-out”, a “dig-out” apparently he was not expecting, that he knew nothing about until 26 December 1993. The “dig out” he at first was reluctant to receive but then agreed to receive as a loan from his friends to pay for his legal costs, legal costs he had paid a few days earlier with the loan he had received from the bank on 23 December.

Mr Murphy could not explain why anybody would take out a loan from a bank at high interest rates (11.5 per cent) and then deposit an even larger sum in a special savings account, given that the interest being paid on the bank loan far exceeded the interest that would be obtainable on the savings account.

Henry Murphy SC asked Philip Murphy, former bank official: “Has it ever happened to you before in your very long career as a banker that someone would come in one day and get a loan of a sum of money, and I'm going to call it a substantial sum of money, the 19,999, and on what is almost the next banking day come in with a little bit more than that sum to lodge”. Mr Murphy, former bank official said this practice was regular.

Then on 25 April 1994 a further sum of £30,000 was lodged to Bertie Ahern's accounts. Philip Murphy had gone to Bertie Ahern's constituency office, St Luke's in Drumcondra, and there Bertie told him he (Bertie) had money in a safe. Bertie gave him £30,000 in cash but told him he had even more money in a safe in government buildings. Of this £30,000, £27,164.444 was used to “top up” to £50,000 Bertie's savings account (the maximum allowable was £50,000), with the balance going to his current account.

Then on 8 August 1994 Bertie Ahern opened an account for the benefit of his daughters and lodged a further £20,000 in that in cash.

The following exchange took place between Henry Murphy SC and Philip Murphy:
Q:    “Now, just on this particular date, the 8th of August (1994) you gave received £22,500 effectively in cash at the end of December (1993), £30,000 on the 25th April (1994) and now £20,000 on 8th of August (1994). That's  £72,500?
A:     Yea.
Q:     In cash from Mr Ahern on three separate occasions.
A:     Right.
Q:     Did that surprise you on that day or whenever on subsequent days you reflected on it?
A:     No, I don't think I did reflect on it, to be honest.
Q:     There was nothing out of the ordinary about collecting that kind of money?
A:     No, I was delighted to get the business.