This story was first published in the Irish Mail on Sunday on 07/04/2012
Words by Michael O’Farrell
Exclusive photos by Michael Chester
Welcome to the carefree, sun-soaked retirement of rotten politician Pádraig Flynn.
Far from worrying about the threat of prosecution or jail in the wake of corruption findings against him, Flynn and his wife, Dorothy, have spent all week relaxing in an exclusive private villa on the Costa del Sol.
The damning findings of the Mahon Tribunal have been passed to the Criminal Assets Bureau – but Flynn seemed unperturbed when the MoS tracked him down to the Spanish village of San Pedro, just west of glitzy Marbella.
Enjoying the benefits of his multiple, taxpayer-funded pensions, Flynn and his wife are living in a multimillion-euro villa perched above Linda Vista beach, with sweeping views along the Mediterranean coast.
Overlooked by the Sierra de Ronda mountains, the villa’s location is ideal with a fragrant eucalyptus forest to one side and the ruins of third-century Roman baths to the other.
Behind high walls, the manicured garden is dotted with scented flowers. Banana trees and palms shade a veranda overlooking a private pool. An aging Flynn appeared completely relaxed as he took frequent strolls with his wife in the warmth of the spring sunshine.
And why not? There is, outrageously, no immediate threat to his three hefty pensions; EU Commissioner Maros Sefcovic has confirmed officials won’t even consider withdrawing Flynn’s pension unless he is convicted of a criminal offence – and that will depend on the extent of a CAB investigation.
As a former TD, Flynn also receives his publicly funded pension from the Dáil, on top of his ministerial pension.
He was first spotted on Monday, taking his daily exercise as he ambled along the 2km San Pedro promenade – before enjoying a cool beer at a beach-front café. At his side, Dorothy – whose name appears on the Mayo property the pair bought with corrupt funds – wore a double strand pearl necklace and designer sunglasses.
Driving to and from the palm-lined esplanade in a black VW Golf, the couple seldom changed their routine, parking at one end of the beachfront then walking to the other for a cold drink or lunch.
Then they strolled back to their car and returned home, pausing at times for a breather or to admire the views across the bay towards Gibraltar.
At one point, they even left the privacy of their villa to drive to a nearby fountain for some holiday snaps before returning home immediately.
On Holy Thursday, they once again appeared for their seafront stroll, this time pausing for an hour-long lunch in a fish restaurant halfway through.
Throughout the week, the snowy-haired Flynn wore the same wine-coloured sweater and camel slacks, making him instantly recognisable.
Emerging again on Friday, Flynn accompanied his wife to a supermarket, where they bought supplies such as water and fruit before returning to San Pedro for another leisurely ramble.
This time, they paused frequently, for Mrs Flynn to sit on the sea wall. With the sky threatening rain, they did not stop for a drink or a meal before returning home.
The substantial villa appears to be the Spanish residence of Flynn’s daughter Beverley and her developer partner, Tony Gaughan. It is a lavish residence for Ms Flynn, who was unable to pay the €2.4m she owed RTÉ after a failed libel claim, instead settling for roughly half that amount.
Similar villas in the area are currently for sale for between €1.8m and €2m.
Mr Gaughan owns a number of property companies in the Linda Vista area into which he has invested millions.
One of them, Linda Vista Enterprises SL, was formed just last May and has a paid-up share capital of just under €1m.
But it is another of his companies – jointly owned with Beverley – that ties in directly to the villa where Flynn and his wife have been sojourning since the Mahon Report was published.
The grandiose-sounding G&F Enterprises & Investments SL was formed in February 2010 to run a nearby fast-food restaurant, Captain Macs. Having lost €110,000 last year, the business has collapsed and is now shuttered up. A new owner is preparing to open a bar.
The company behind Captain Macs is still registered and lists its business address as the very villa now occupied by Flynn and Dorothy.
It is possible that Flynn is spending his days in Spain indulging in his favoured pastime – painting – and trying to ride out the storm of publicity created by the release of the report. But the tribunal’s findings seem to have cost him hardly a thought.
His response, emailed to media outlets the day after publication, amounted to just two sentences.
‘During my lifetime of involvement in politics I have never sought nor have I ever received a corrupt payment. I absolutely reject any such finding of this tribunal in that regard,’ he said, adding that he did not intend to issue any further comment. The dismissal harks back to his infamous Late Late Show interview in 1999, when he provoked public outrage for his complaints about the difficulty of maintaining three households – advising others to ‘try it some time’.
Now Flynn’s name will be irrevocably associated with corruption thanks to the force of the tribunal’s findings against him.
Those findings concluded that, at a meeting that probably took place in April 1999, Flynn, minister for the environment at the time, asked developer Tom Gilmartin to make a substantial donation to Fianna Fáil.
The tribunal found that the request was made on the understanding that Flynn would take steps to ease problems being faced by Mr Gilmartin in relation to his plans for what became Liffey Valley shopping centre.
‘Mr Flynn wrongfully and in the circumstances corruptly sought a donation from Mr Gilmartin for the FF party,’ the inquiry concluded.
‘Mr Flynn, having been paid £50,000 by Mr Gilmartin for the Fianna Fáil party, proceeded wrongfully to use the money for his own personal benefit,’ the damning report continued. According to the tribunal, that £50,000 funded at least a significant portion of the purchase of a farm in Cloonanass, Co. Mayo, instead of being used for political purposes. The farm, a stretch of poor land now covered in forestry, was bought for €47,000 and registered in the name of Mrs Flynn. She told the tribunal she had never seen it and had never farmed it in any meaningful way.
But that did not stop her finding a way to be officially designated a farmer, allowing her to claim €212,000 in forestry grants. She is entitled to annual grants for the next eight years, which could total another €100,000.
To qualify, Mrs Flynn made hay on the land at a cost of £150 and paid tax on the £1,100 profit.
This allowed her to tell the Revenue that 25% of her income was from farming, entitling her to higher grant payments.
Strolling carelessly along the beachfront in Spain this week, she doesn’t look much like a farmer – but neither does her husband look like a former powerful Eurocrat.
Flynn appears able to avoid recognition in Spain but there seems little likelihood that any immediate moves will be made against him from his old base in Brussels.
EU authorities responded this week to demands – led by Labour MEP Nessa Childers – that his commissioner’s pension be withdrawn.
Writing to Ms Childers, the commission’s vice-president for administration, Mr Sefcovic, expressed disquiet about the findings – but said that Mr Justice Mahon’s conclusions carried no weight.
Mr Sefcovic said: ‘The Commission’s understanding is that the findings of the Mahon Tribunal… do not represent the verdict of a court after due process.’
Having claimed to ‘fully understand that there is widespread anger among Irish citizens,’ Mr Sefcovic then made it clear that they would first await a move by CAB: and only then would they even consider stripping Mr Flynn of his EU pension under laws known as Article 245. ‘The result of the proceedings of the CAB will play an important element to be taken into account by the Commission as to whether action under Article 245 should be taken,’ he said.
Ms Childers said: ‘Pádraig Flynn has disgraced Ireland’s good name in Europe. He should no longer receive his sizeable pension from the commission. He was found to have taken corrupt payments before he was commissioner, falsified documents while he was a commissioner, and made false statements to the tribunal after he was commissioner.’
But for now, Pádraig Flynn will be able to spend his Easter in the sunshine, safe in the knowledge that the citizens of Ireland are paying for him to live like a king. If we’re lucky, he might raise a glass to us, smile and say: ‘You should try it!’
What happened when our reporter asked the Flynns about Mahon: She stared right at me, put her fingers to her lips… then zipped her mouth closed
It was the moment I had been anticipating for days – the chance to put some questions to Pádraig Flynn and his wife Dorothy.
To date Flynn has issued a meagre three-line statement, having been found to have received a substantial corrupt payment by the Mahon Tribunal.
Cutting a proud figure as always, Flynn was halfway back to his car, having enjoyed an hour-long lunch in a discreet seafood restaurant on the San Pedro promenade.
I hailed him as he approached.
‘That’s me,’ he almost sang, as bold and confident as that night on the Late Late Show.
‘How are you?’ I asked.
‘Not so bad,’ he returned in that same sing-song voice but eyeing me a little more warily now.
‘I was hoping I could have a chat with you. And I hope we can be friendly about this,’ I ventured. ‘My name is Michael O’Farrell, and I’m the investigations editor of the Irish Mail on Sunday…’
Then he pursed his lips together tightly, cocking his head in the air, and marched on as if no one was there.
Stepping up alongside them I kept pace with them and asked again. After all, there was so much for him to answer. Did he accept the finding of corruption made against him by the Mahon Tribunal? Did he regret taking that cheque from Tom Gilmartin? Was he shocked that they had traced that IR£50,000 all the way round the houses, discovering that it was used to buy his wife a farm? Should he have insisted on taking the money in cash, so nobody would know who had given it to him?
I could have asked 100 questions. Would he be going to court? Would he give back his pensions? Was he sorry? Did he want to apologise to the people of Ireland, the constituents who had been shamed by him and by his ‘class act’ of a daughter?
I tried a more neutral approach. ‘You don’t want to say anything more than the three lines of your statement?’ I asked as he strutted on.
Beside him, Dorothy had not even flinched and continued to look straight ahead. I turned to her. After all, it was she who had been given the farm bought with Tom Gilmartin’s money, corruptly obtained. And of course she had made money from it since, even claiming EU grants against it. The taxpayer had a reason to seek her views on the subject too.
‘What about you, Mrs Flynn?’ I asked. ‘You were involved as well. The land was in your name. You have never said anything. Do you want to say anything at all?’
Turning to face me, her response was extraordinary – and yet somehow totally in keeping with the arrogant persona of her husband. Instead of speaking, she lifted her head, put her fingers to her lips – and drew them across in a zip-like motion.
I was meeting a wall of silence. So I tried a different tack, hoping the name Gilmartin might draw him. It had, after all, been Flynn’s famous Late Late Show remark about Mr Gilmartin’s health that proved a turning point in the tribunal. Flynn’s sneering prompted the irate developer to tell the judges the story of how he had gone to Flynn to complain about corruption – and had been chiselled into handing over a £50,000 bribe.
‘I thought maybe you regretted saying that,’ I prompted Flynn, to no response whatsoever – not even a quickening of his pace. He simply carried on as if he was the only person present.
‘Wouldn’t it be nice to try to clear your name,’ I continued. ‘Will you try to clear your name?’
Then I held out my business card indicating that I’d be available should he ever change his mind.
Suddenly he stopped dead and turned, taking the card.
‘Let me have a look at you,’ he almost growled. And he took out his own camera to point at me.
Why would he want my picture? Was it a bizarre attempt to get me to leave? Something for his family album? Whatever the point, I had no problem with it and posed, smirking with my best passport smile as he focused and took a shot.
‘That’s a nice holiday snap,’ I joked.
He chuckled to himself, putting his camera away, and smartly resumed his walk.
For another few paces I kept plugging away but it was pointless. He never once again acknowledged me in any way.
I couldn’t even persuade him to say something about how hard it must be to keep up a lifestyle like his on just three pensions – as he had done in that 1999 Late Late interview, when he infamously said: ‘You should try it!’
So with that, I let him go: back to his lavish retirement, his walks down the sunny promenade, his meals and cold beer – all at our expense. If anyone in Ireland is hoping for an apology from Pee Flynn, it seems they had better be ready for a long wait.