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Will corrupt leaders get their due?

Politicians may be next as Ireland jails Frank Dunlop.

Another corrupt minister, Liam Lawlor, was imprisoned for a total of six weeks for failing to cooperate with the tribunal. (Lawlor was later killed in a car crash in Moscow.)

Dunlop’s name surfaced at the hearings as a facilitator of rezoning projects and he was called as a key witness. He indignantly denied allegations of bribery until one dramatic day in April 2000 when an undisclosed bank account in his name turned up in evidence, revealing large unexplained transactions over several years. He at first denied the money was used for “illicit or improper purposes” and the presiding judge famously advised him to “reflect” overnight on his evidence.

The next day, April 19, 2000, Dunlop began to talk. All the self confidence and pomposity was gone. Over 130 days of evidence at the hearings over a number of years, he confessed to corrupting councilors in more than 20 rezoning cases.

Some of Dunlop's stories were contradictory and evidently self-serving, as the more he explained away the huge sums of money he received to use as bribes, the less he laid himself open to tax liability. But on Tuesday the 62-year-old consultant was jailed at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court for two years and fined €30,000 ($42,000) on charges of bribing councilors to rezone land in Carrickmines, County Dublin in 1997. Having arrived at the Four Courts in a silver Mercedes, he was led off in handcuffs to a prison van.

The implications of the Dunlop affair are both immediate and far-reaching. Several politicians face prison and at least one developer faces the confiscation of his lands by the Criminal Assets Bureau. In the long term, it may mark an improvement in the standards of Irish public life, and the end of the "brown envelope" culture that has poisoned local government in Ireland for so long.

The final report of the tribunal, still many months away, is expected to be scathing about the role of former senior Fianna Fail politicians, including the ex-prime minister Bertie Ahern, who resigned last year after giving contradictory evidence about his murky financial dealings in the 1990s. “The word must go out from this court,” said Judge Frank O’Donnell when sentencing Dunlop, “that the corruption of politicians, or anyone in public life, must attract significant penalties.”

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