The 'Framing' of Phil Flynn

Phil Flynn's account of his role in Chesterton Finance, the 'weapons' charge and the infamous trip to Bulgaria. By Vincent Browne

'Former aide Flynn faces gun charges" was the front page headline in the Irish Independent on 12 August last. "Flynn faces weapon charges after Garda inquiries" headlined the Irish Times. "Proof" that Phil Flynn, former President of ICTU, head of the Government's decentralisation committee, serial fixer of disputes in the public service and former vice-president of Sinn Féin, was deeply implicated in the money-laundering, bank robbing, and associated criminality ascribed to the IRA in early 2005. He had been "outed" on the previous 12 August as implicated in laundering the €28m which the IRA allegedly robbed from the Northern Bank in Belfast in December 2004.

"Proof" that government ministers in the last 30 years, notably Patrick Cooney, Fine Gael Minister for Justice from 1973 to 1977, Conor Cruise O'Brien, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in that same government, and Barry Desmond, Minister for Health from 1983 to 1987 had been right all along in regarding him as a political leper because of his republican associations.

The "weapon" had been found in a drawer in his office desk when members of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) came to search the place in February 2005.

"I got a phone call from my secretary to say that there were a number of people at my office with a search warrant and she wanted to know what she should do and I said, let them in. And I headed back there as quickly as I could. And when I got there they said they were going to have to break into my house. I said there was no need, I would let them in after they had completed the search of my office.

"They took away a significant amount of documentation from both the office and my home, documents that had nothing to do with money laundering or illegality of any kind. They took a file on my consultancy for Mary Lou McDonald's European election campaign – I had been asked by Sinn Féin to do that assignment and later asked by Gerry Adams to do a report on the organisation of the Sinn Féin head office. They took that file too. And then they came across this pen-gun in a drawer in my office desk.

The 'weapon'

"It was given to me by a Dutch journalist during the Herrema kidnapping (an IRA kidnapping of a Dutch citizen Tiede Herrema) in 1976. What happened was at the time, I was being threatened by a right-wing Dutch organisation. Because of my role as an intermediary between the government and the Herrema kidnappers, notably, Eddie Gallagher (one of the kidnappers of Herrema). I had got some publicity in Holland and arising from that got a few death threats in the post from right-wing organisations there. I mentioned this to a Dutch journalist in an interview and he came back to me with this antique pen gun as a souvenir – the gun was capable of firing a tiny amount of gas, which might stun an attacker but more likely would stun the person firing the thing.

"I put this in the top left-hand drawer of my office desk at the time, along with other mementoes and every time I moved office since then I put all the mementoes in an envelope and when I got to the new office I poured them into the left-hand top drawer in the new desk and that was it.

"I was charged with not having a license for the memento because, technically, it was a firearm. The judge applied the Probation Act because clearly the prosecution was silly, designed to harm me and implant in people's minds that I was a terrorist and involved in criminality. I got a phone call from an old lady down in South Tipperary whom I've known for years and years and she said to me, 'My God Philip, what were you doing with all them guns in your office?'.

"At any time during all this the gardaí or the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform could have come out and said they accepted I did not have a firearm in my office and that I was not involved in money laundering. But they chose to remain silent even though they knew this was the truth. Instead very damaging innuendoes were leaked to the media about the significance of my involvement in Chesterton Finance in Cork and in the trip to Bulgaria. So let me explain.

Money laundering

"Ted Cunningham came to me in late 2004 in my capacity as chairman of Bank of Scotland Ireland. He wanted to explore the possibility of a link-up between Bank of Scotland Ireland and Chesterton Finance. I said I did not think the bank would be interested and this proved to be the case. He then asked me to assist him in getting his venture off the ground and I did so. He offered me a fee which I declined and instead he issued me with ten per cent of the shareholding in the company.

"I had a 'due diligence' done on the company and was satisfied it was 'clean'. I gave him some advice on what I thought he needed to do and I went out and got some investors for them. I agreed to become a director but in fact the directorship was not registered with the Companies Office by the time this money-laundering story broke.

"I have asked him since about a large amount of cash that apparently was found by CAB in the company in February of last year. He has given me an explanation which I find satisfactory but whether the authorities do is a matter for them. I am not going to disclose what he said to me about this. If he wants to do that himself, that's fine and I am sure he told the same to the gardaí."

The Bulgarian trip

There were several reports in the media that Phil Flynn and Ted Cunningham of Chesterton Finance had gone to Bulgaria and had been in touch with financial institutions there. The suggestion was they were assisting the IRA to launder money

"The Bulgarian trip, it was my idea. I had had contacts with Bulgaria for several years previously. At one time, actually, I was asked to become the Bulgarian honorary consul in Ireland – this was before they opened an embassy here. But I had been to Bulgaria a number of times and had contact with the embassy in London. The Bulgarian Minister for Finance came to Ireland and an official dinner was organised for him in one of the clubs on St Stephen's Green. This was attended by officials from the Department of Finance, the Treasury Management Agency and the Department of Foreign Affairs. I was invited to the dinner because my interest in Bulgaria was known, including my interest in getting involved in business there. So there was nothing covert about this.

"I believed there was an opportunity to establish the equivalent of a building society there – there were no building societies there. I thought there were opportunities in the property business there and in investment in the national airline. So I got about 12 people to come to Bulgaria with me. These included Ted Cunningham, two solicitors, two bankers, several people in the property business in Ireland and others.

We spent about eight days there and before we left Ted Cunningham and I opened an office there and recruited someone to manage the office – she left her job to join us. Channel 4 made a big issue of a meeting we had with one person, only one. They said we had wanted to buy a site this person had for €25 million. We never saw the site and as far as I know it is distant from Sofia – two or three hundred kilometers. They did a presentation for us. We said we would take the proposition back to Ireland and revert to them but I didn't think it was a runner. Incidentally, while we were there, we were told, of all the people we met, that we shouldn't do business with them for reasons I can't say on the record."

The fallout

Did the publicity surrounding the CAB searches of his office and home and the "weapons" charge affect his business much?

"It did initially and I'd be telling you lie if I said that I didn't miss the bank. I'd like to have stayed with VHI, you know, through its current stage. I'd like to have seen the decentralisation through to a point of no return. But, it's a funny old world. What's happened is, other things have popped up, other people have popped up and have offered me jobs and have offered me opportunities so, on a personal level, the worst part of it was my family, you know. They put my brother out of business. My brother, James Flynn, is apolitical. He was a financial broker in Dundalk. CAB raided him and took away his computers, his systems, everything. They put him out of business. They literally put him out of business. p