Bertie Ahern: growing portfolio

FORMER taoiseach Bertie Ahern has been appointed chairperson of a forestry body, which is being financed by a Swiss firm that is a specialist in offshore banking.

Ahern became chairman of the International Forestry Fund late last year. It was the latest appointment in his growing portfolio of business interests outside politics.

The main backers of the fund are Helvetia Wealth AG of Switzerland and the Irish Forestry Fund, which plans to invest in trees in Ireland, the UK and Central America.

A spokesman for the fund said it would also consider an acquisition of Coillte, privatisation of which was mooted in the report of An Bord Snip Nua.

Helvetia Wealth, which is the primary backer of the scheme, is an international finance company that offers offshore banking to clients.

Based in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, it boasts that it can give the benefits of an offshore bank account to ordinary investors.

Its website states: "Offshore banking was once the sole preserve of the world's wealthiest investors; a lucrative, fiercely-guarded sphere that offered financial rewards to a small handful of private and corporate investors.

"However, improved liquidity and growth in global markets over recent years has granted individuals greater access to offshore banking advice and services than ever before.

"The benefits of offshore banking are vast; its scope for wealth creation and preservation are almost limitless. Private and corporate clients alike are reaping significant rewards offered by an offshore bank account, and if you'd like to join this elite group of investors, it's time you spoke to Helvetia Wealth."

The financial firm says it is "expertly positioned" to help clients and its finance avoids "political and economic volatility".

Paul Brosnan of the International Forestry Fund said that Ahern, despite still serving as a TD, was the perfect candidate for the job as chair of the body.

He said: "The International Forestry Fund has been recently launched. We were looking for a chairman with a very good international reputation and the ability to get things done.

"Bertie Ahern sprang to mind and we are absolutely delighted with that. We didn't ask him to become chairman because he is an expert in forestry; we have enough of those on board. He has a proven ability to make things happen on an international basis.

"He is a very talented man. When you are taoiseach, you have to be able to keep a lot of balls in the air. He proved himself very capable when he was taoiseach."

Asked whether he thought it was appropriate for a former taoiseach to be involved in a firm that was involved in offering offshore banking, he said it was only part of Helvetia Wealth's business.

He said: "It is not that [Helvetia Wealth] specialises in offshore banking; it is a Zurich-based organisation and is very effective.

A spokeswoman for Ahern said: "The time commitment has not been big since he was appointed last year. He is quite satisfied it is a good company."