Belfast Telegraph

Ansbacher cases - charges timed out

Prosecutions were not taken in the Ansbacher alleged tax evasion cases because too much time had elapsed, the head of the Revenue Commissioners said.

Five former ministers have denied they held offshore accounts linked to the Cayman Islands after being named under privilege in the Dail by Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald.

Revenue chair Josephine Feehily said almost 300 cases were identified but in around half those cases no money was found to be owed.

She said a ten-year rule in the legislation barred the organisation from taking prosecutions for alleged serious offences committed more than a decade ago.

She added: "That is where we found ourselves in a position where the law simply was an impediment."

The Ansbacher account scandal involved a clandestine bank, which was unauthorised to operate in Ireland and was allegedly used by senior political figures in the Dail to evade tax.

Yesterday, Ms McDonald said whistleblower claims surrounding the affair came from a "very credible source".

She said the whistleblower named former Progressive Democrats leader Des O'Malley, Ray MacSharry, Gerard Collins, Maire Geogheghan-Quinn, an 'S Barrett', Richie Ryan, a former minister for finance, and others.

Ms Feehily told the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC) the Revenue had carefully examined a number of cases with a view to prosecution but she could not publicly identify individuals.

"It was examined very closely and significant legal advice was sought.

"When you are getting legal advice telling you something is not going to stick you have to pay attention."

Revenue actively considered prosecution under taxes acts in a number of cases, the chairwoman added.

"However, an essential element for a successful criminal prosecution is the availability of relevant original documents and that element was largely missing.

"There were few original documents available and there was no legal mechanism to compel Cayman entities to produce documents or their employees to give evidence.

"The time elapsed was also a very significant factor."

The Ansbacher accounts ran from 1971 until the mid-1990s. The time elapsed was typically in excess of 10 years.

Part of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 provides proceedings have to be instituted within 10 years from the date of the commission of the offence.

The committee was also told around 20 Ansbacher account holders availed of a 1993 amnesty.

Independent TD for Dublin South Shane Ross said: "When you see people prosecuted for very small amounts of tax evasion in this country and other people getting settlements which appear reasonably generous without prosecution it does look utterly wrong."

Ms Feehily said the investigations and examinations identified some 289 cases. The number of connected entities consisting of trusts, associated companies and offshore entities related to the 289 substantive cases was nearly 700.

A total of 283 cases have been finalised. Of the remaining six, five have made payments on account and four are under appeal. A total of 138 of the finalised cases yielded 113 million euros in tax, interest and penalties. Fifty-six significant settlements have been published in the quarterly tax defaulters list.

Ms McDonald has been sharply criticised by two members of the PAC for revealing names of those alleged to have Ansbacher accounts in the Dail yesterday.

Fine Gael Deputy John Deasy accused Ms McDonald of using the committee for her own political ends and told her to stop.

He said she had given the impression in the Dail that the committee was not able to deal with the issues.

Labour TD Joe Costelloe also said it was "totally untrue to say we had come to the end of the road and we couldn't proceed any further".

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