Irish Premier Quizzed Over Secret Money
( Newsvine ) Prime Minister Bertie Ahern faced a difficult third day of testimony Thursday about secret cash payments he received in the 1990s, a scandal weakening his decade-long grip on power.
An anti-corruption tribunal investigating bribery among politicians, lobbyists and property developers has discovered four cash deposits in 1994 and 1995 into the accounts of Ahern and his then-girlfriend, Celia Larkin, exceeding $140,000.
Since taking the stand for two days last week, Ahern has denied hiding funds - but has admitted failing to detail one $89,000 transfer into his girlfriend's account.
"That's what I did. You have a problem with that?" Ahern said during one particularly testy exchange with the probe's senior lawyer, Des O'Neill.
O'Neill accused Ahern of seeking to hide from the three-judge tribunal the fact that much of the undocumented money deposited into his accounts had been converted from foreign currency.
"I wasn't hiding anything. Any questions that ever came up, I answered them," said Ahern, who gave often vague, contradictory recollections Thursday.
Ahern said he purchased 30,000 British pounds from his bank in January 1995 but couldn't recall what he did with the cash, noting that such a sum was "no big deal."
He said he didn't know why he took cash rather than a bank draft or other, more secure way to carry money.
When one judge noted he would have had to book such a large sum in advance from the bank, Ahern said he might have had someone else collect the cash, or might even have withdrawn the sum in smaller installments - he didn't know.
The scrutiny of Ahern's personal finances has intensified speculation about who will succeed him as prime minister and leader of Fianna Fail, Ireland's dominant political party for decades. Ahern, 56, has pledged that his current five-year term as prime minister will be his last.