Times Online - Sunday Times

Adams’s expenses cut over bank heist

Liam Clarke
February 20, 2005

THE government is to move this week to cut off Sinn Fein’s Westminster expenses for a year to punish the party for the role played by its leadership in sanctioning the UK’s biggest bank robbery.

The sanctions against the republican MPs, including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, follow last week’s series of moves by Irish police to smash an IRA money laundering operation linked to front companies in Bulgaria and Libya.

Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, has seen its reputation severely damaged since the £26.5m raid on the Northern Bank in Belfast in December.

It has already been denied expenses from the suspended Northern Ireland assembly because of an IRA kidnapping last year. This penalty will now be extended.

The initiative on Commons expenses is due to be announced on Tuesday. Under parliamentary procedures it will require a vote of the whole house before it can be implemented.

Sinn Fein has four MPs: Adams, McGuinness, Michelle Gildernew and Pat Doherty. They have not taken their seats in parliament because they do not recognise Britain’s jurisdiction over Northern Ireland and will not swear the oath of allegiance.

However, their principles did not extend to their refusing to claim a total of £440,000 in parliamentary expenses and allowances last year. Last month the Independent Monitoring Commission, set up to observe paramilitary ceasefires, found that senior Sinn Fein figures had sat on IRA bodies that sanctioned the robbery.

As a result it recommended the penalties, pointing out that a fine would seem “paltry” compared with the £26.5m stolen from the Northern Bank by an IRA gang.

Evidence has grown of Sinn Fein’s close involvement in the robbery and other multi- million-pound IRA criminality. The British and Irish governments have been accused of turning a blind eye to these activities for the sake of the peace process, but they hope the Commons sanction will be seen in the context of a general crackdown on the IRA.

In an operation involving the Irish republic’s criminal assets bureau and police, several people were arrested or questioned last week — including one serving and two former Sinn Fein officials — and £2.3m was seized in a wheelie bin behind a bungalow in Co Cork. One man was seen burning sterling banknotes in his garden. When police raided the house they found arms and ammunition.

Another man handed £175,000 into a Cork police station because he suspected it was laundered money and a third was arrested after being found with thousands of euros concealed in a box of Daz washing powder.

The biggest name so far caught up in the dragnet has been Phil Flynn, a senior figure in the Irish financial world who acts as a government adviser. Flynn has been questioned but not charged and he denies all wrongdoing.

He has stepped aside as chairman of the Bank of Scotland’s Irish subsidiary and from the boards of a number of public bodies. His home and offices were searched and documents were seized.

Flynn, who has described himself on Irish television as an “unrepentant republican”, was drawn into the investigation because he is a non-executive director of Chesterton Finance, a Cork-based concern that is central to the money laundering investigation.

Flynn was also, until last Friday, non-executive director of Harcourt Developments, a British-Irish property firm whose British headquarters are in Bagshot, Surrey, near the home of the Earl of Wessex. Andrew Parker Bowles, former husband of Camilla, is a director of Harcourt. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Harcourt.

One senior Irish government source said that Flynn had been seen in the company of senior IRA members, including Thomas “Slab” Murphy, the organisation’s chief of staff.

Last month Flynn travelled to Bulgaria with Ted Cunningham, 57, who owns Chesterton. Cunningham was allegedly placed under surveillance by Irish Special Branch six months ago after claims that he had attended a meeting with Bulgarian arms dealers.

Flynn said the trip had been to look at property investments and that it was nothing to do with money laundering.

Although now a highly respected business figure, Flynn has a colourful past. In 1972 he gave written evidence to an IRA “court of inquiry” into a failed arms deal in Czechoslovakia. In handwritten notes, Flynn denied leaking details to the BBC. He also describes his role in driving Joe Cahill, a senior IRA figure involved in setting up the arms deal.

In 1975 he acted as a mediator to secure the release of Tiede Herrema, a Dutch businessman kidnapped by the IRA, and he has since spoken out against the tactic of kidnapping.

In the 1980s Flynn quickly rose through the ranks of Sinn Fein and became director of its economic resistance campaign. He was elected vice-president of Sinn Fein in 1983 but later resigned. He pledged that his experience and support would always be available to the republican movement.

Since then Flynn has become a leading business figure and has been used as a troubleshooter and mediator for the current Irish government in a number of disputes.

Irish police sources say it will take some time to study all the papers seized from Flynn, Chesterton and a number of solicitors’ and accountancy practices that were also raided; only then will they have a fuller idea of who was and was not involved. They are, however, satisfied that the bulk of the banknotes seized were connected to the Northern Bank robbery.

The only notes to be recovered in Northern Ireland were found at Newforge country club, Belfast, which is used mainly by serving and retired police officers. Police regard the find as an attempt to divert their investigation.

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