THE new Finance Bill has terminated a controversial tax relief introduced by Bertie Ahern as finance minister 16 years ago which it later emerged had benefited only one individual.
Section 4 of the Finance Bill, published last week, ends the benefit-in-kind tax exemption on employer- provided art objects introduced by Ahern, as a late amendment to the 1994 Finance Act, despite opposition from the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners.
This tax exemption became a major issue over a decade ago when the Sunday Tribune revealed the measure had benefited businessman Ken Rohan and that it was applied retrospectively for the previous 12 years, effectively neutralising any efforts to pursue Rohan for back taxes.
Rohan had been in dispute with the Revenue. Some of the contents of his Wicklow stately home – including expensive antique furniture and paintings – had been bought by his company and were borrowed by him personally. The Revenue believed this should have been treated as benefit-in-kind and levied a tax bill for two years, leaving the way open to levy tax for all the other years Rohan's company had been lending him the items. In his book Who Really Runs Ireland?, Matt Cooper, who broke the story in the Sunday Tribune, said this bill could have amounted to IR£1.5m. Rohan appealed the assessment and won his case at the Appeals Commissioners in May 1993 but the Revenue said it would raise another assessment for the tax year 1992/93 and if it lost the case in the Appeals Commissioners, it would appeal it to the High Court.
Rohan organised an extensive lobbying campaign and wrote to Ahern in October 1993 urging him to introduce an amendment in the Finance Act. Department of Finance officials drafted a response outlining why Rohan's arguments had been rejected. However, Ahern said he wanted an amendment introduced.
The year before that 1994 Finance Act, one of a series of private dinners, attended by Ahern, Albert Reynolds and businessmen, took place at Rohan's home.
It also emerged in 2003 that Des Richardson, a Fianna Fail fundraiser in the 1990s and a close associate of Ahern, had been on a retainer by Rohan for strategic consultancy advice up to 1997. There is no evidence to suggest that Richardson had any influence on Ahern's decision to introduce the tax exemption.