Varadkar's office issues implausible explanation over undeclared donation controversy

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s office last night issued an implausible explanation about false donation statements he submitted to SIPO last year.

Yesterday The Ditch reported that Varadkar submitted two false statutory declarations to SIPO in 2022. 

The Ditch can also reveal that the taoiseach last year wrongly assured SIPO that any payments into his donation bank account “in excess of €600 are in respect of a group of individuals for a table at a fundraising event”. 

He later admitted this was untrue only after being told by SIPO that the businessman who collected and transferred the funds should have registered as a handler of political donations under electoral law. 

Varadkar’s office now claims, ignoring basic arithmetic, that he believed that the same €1033.20 individual donation that he initially failed to declare to SIPO “was made on behalf of two people of €500 each”. 

Nil, €1000, €1033.20

Yesterday The Ditch reported that Leo Varadkar submitted a statutory declaration in January 2023 claiming that he didn’t receive any donations over €600 in 2022. 

He was however forced to submit a second 2022 donation statement in August 2023 after The Ditch reported he was the subject of a SIPO probe. In the donation declaration he disclosed that he had received a €1,000 donation in May 2022 from businessman Dr Ray Power at a fundraising event in Dublin.

In November 2023 Varadkar was forced to submit a third donation statement. This time he admitted he had received €1033.20 from Power in May 2022 and not €1,000 as he previously declared in his second donation statement in August 2023. He said he refunded €33.20 to Power in August 2023 because it was more than the €1,000 legal donation limit.

Varadkar’s office now claims that the taoiseach initially “believed (it) was made on behalf of two people of €500 each” – an impossibility given he admitted in November 2023 that the amount he received was €1033.20 and not €1,000. 

This is not the first time that Varadkar has given conflicting accounts of his donation payments. 

In January 2023 he told SIPO that all donations in excess of €600 were in respect of a group of individuals for a table at a fundraising event, according to May 2023 correspondence from SIPO seen by The Ditch.

In the same correspondence, SIPO advised Varadkar that any persons collecting multiple donations on behalf of the taoiseach should have been registered as intermediaries under electoral law.

Varadkar ignored SIPO’s letter for three months until The Ditch revealed its existence in August last year. Two weeks later Varadkar admitted he had received a previously undeclared donation from Power over the €600 reporting limit. 

The Ditch reported last year that PR company Edelman told SIPO it gave Varadkar €1,250 in 2022 for five tickets at a fundraising event. The taoiseach did not declare this donation and maintains that it was five individual donations of €250 each.

Last night Varadkar’s office issued a statement claiming the Fine Gael leader was confused about the source of the €1033.20 payment transferred to his donation bank account by Power.

“The taoiseach amended his donation statement to include a donation of €1,000 which he incorrectly believed was made on behalf of two people of €500 each. SIPO has confirmed that everything is now in order,” claimed a spokesperson for Varadkar in a statement issued to The Ditch last night.

The statement does not tally with the Taoiseach’s latest disclosure to SIPO that the payment from Power was €1033.20.

While it has always been a criminal offence to knowingly make a false statutory declaration, the offence was made indictable and the punishment increased to up to 10 years’ imprisonment under legislation introduced in 2021. Knowingly submitting incorrect donation statements is a separate criminal offence under the Electoral Act 1997 and can be referred by SIPO to the DPP.

The Ditch editors

The Ditch editors