Monday, October 24, 2005

Liam Lawler


October 2005.

There have been claims that former Irish Member of Parliament Liam Lawlor, who was killed on 22 October 2005 in a car crash in Moscow, may have been with a prostitute at the time of his death.

The accident killed the driver of the car and injured a young Ukrainian woman who was with them.

A Moscow Police spokesman said Mr Lawlor was not close friends with the woman and appeared to have met her in the street, reports said today.

Lawlor was perhaps a typical politician.

On 24 October 2005 the Independent reported on Liam Lawlor

According to the report in The Independent:

Lawlor had 110 bank accounts.

He was jailed three times.

A judge once called him a disgrace.

Lawlor was jailed three times in relation to corruption.

Allegedly he helped bring the politics of the Irish Republic into disrepute 'by enthusiastically operating the culture of the backhander and the brown envelope stuffed with illicit cash'.

'Ireland has had some senior politicians who have been both extremely corrupt and extremely skilful: two other Fianna Fail examples are Charles Haughey and the former foreign minister Ray Burke. Mr Haughey, who escaped prosecution, is nonetheless regarded as being in disgrace, having been exposed as lying by several tribunals. The tribunals caught up with Burke too earlier this year, when he was jailed for six months for tax evasion.

'The three - Haughey, Lawlor and Burke - seem to have functioned as cash-hungry individuals rather than as a tight team. Lawlor, whose political judgement was often shaky, backed Mr Haughey but then broke with him. Mr Haughey never promoted him after that, dismissing him as "an Exocet missile without a guidance system". Nonetheless, Lawlor's dual membership of the Dail and of Dublin County Council was to prove most valuable to his financial fortunes.
Although the scale of wrong-doing which has since been exposed has shocked some, the fact that it existed had been pretty much an open secret for decades. A Haughey rival within Fianna Fail spoke publicly of "low standards in high places".

'Corruption was touched on occasionally in the Irish media in the 1970s, but legal and other considerations discouraged full disclosure. There was, in any event, a popular sense that Haughey and others were go-getters who could get things done and modernise a once-sleepy Ireland.

'And if they should cut a few corners and take a few short-cuts, it was regularly said, didn't they deserve a bit of reward if they were transforming the country, to the benefit of all? Thus, as they say, the dogs in the street knew about it: but the dogs did not bark, and most of them did not care.

'One of the most obvious, straightforward and most profitable scams involving Lawlor centred on the expansion of Dublin, which was developing large new housing estates and shopping centres in the north and west of the city.

'Builders and developers would buy up disregarded pieces of land, then apply for permission to build houses or shops there. Liam Lawlor, at the head of a caucus of councillors, would obligingly fix it so that the land was conveniently re-zoned.

'The value of the land instantly increased dramatically and fortunes were made overnight. According to one estimate, the 5,000 acres which were re-zoned in one six-month period netted their owners some £200m in windfall profits.

'The scam was not rocket science:, in fact it was extraordinarily simple. But Lawlor was blatant about the whole thing, not having the political sense even to try to conceal the obvious corruption. He did not trouble to observe the common decencies of corruption.

'Businessmen would sit in the public gallery of Dublin County Council during meetings watching as Lawlor guided their applications through. Afterwards some of them and some councillors would repair to a nearby pub. There, it is presumed, cash-stuffed brown envelopes would surreptitiously change hands.

'The amounts of money involved, however, became so large that few envelopes were large enough to hold the bigger bribes. Chapter and verse on this emerged a few years ago when a reluctant whistleblower emerged and, under heavy tribunal pressure, spilled the beans.
This was Frank Dunlop, a senior lobbyist who for years had been the government's press secretary and who had once boasted: "I have balls of iron and a spine of steel."

'Under threat of heavy legal penalty, however, the metal buckled and Mr Dunlop came clean, revealing that business figures had supplied him with a "war-chest" containing hundreds of thousands of pounds to pay off councillors.

'Lawlor's share at one point, Mr Dunlop testified, was almost £50,000, 40,000 of it in cash.
This was not a victimless crime, because it resulted in the building of thousands of new homes in vast characterless areas, often without proper planning, facilities or infrastructure.

'The re-zoning scam was a steady source of income for Lawlor, but he expanded into "consultancy work" - it is said he once received £10,000 for a single day's work.

'A builder, Seamus Ross, testified to a tribunal how Lawlor had regularly extracted money from him, repeatedly telling him about the "good turns" he had done for him.

'The builder, who said he had handed over £25,000 in "political donations," said he was "very unhappy" about giving him money, saying he had planning applications in the system and was concerned that Lawlor might use his influence against these.

'He explained: "He would leave you in no doubt that he had certain powers and would use them against you as well as for you. I was angry with Liam Lawlor. He was like a plague, always in your face, making himself friendly."

'Again, the work of the tribunals brought such activities to light in damning detail. But, although Mr Dunlop caved in, Lawlor would not, maintaining his bluster and vainly professing his innocence long after his guilt was universally accepted.

'When he was first locked up one newspaper called it "the day the swagger died and the brass neck vanished". But, in fact, if he was crestfallen it was only momentary: "You'd think he'd be mortified about going to jail," said one observer, "but in fact it was more like water off a duck's back."

'Although his three jail spells ended his political career, his business enterprises continued in Ireland and abroad. Travellers reported sightings of him breezing around Hungary and other countries. But while his experience of the tribunal system, and indeed of prison, may not have changed his fundamental character, he has certainly helped change the system itself.

'The work of a range of tribunals has exposed Lawlor, Haughey, Burke and others, and has recouped more than €30m (£20m) for the exchequer. But it has taken years and the cost has been immense, generating much public disillusion about the whole exercise.

'Dealing with miscreants such as Lawlor has cost Ireland more money than he ever extracted in bribes, sweeteners and backhanders. Most of the public and most of the politicians are weary of the whole process and want to see it curtailed, as quickly as possible. The government has taken steps to do so, but even so it will all drag on for years yet.

'The irony in all of this is that Ireland today is run by a government headed by Fianna Fail, some of whose one-time leading members were up to their neck in the corruption.

'Yet Bertie Ahern has successfully won election after election, being universally viewed as free from his party's previous bad old habits. Through all of this, Fianna Fail has remained Ireland's largest party.'

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