Gardai probe suspected abuses of farming scheme
Gardai have launched a criminal investigation into hundreds of suspected abuses of a scheme which reimbursed farmers for certain capital investments.
A business-consultancy firm that issued hundreds of claims on behalf of farmers under an EU-funded environmental-protection scheme is at the centre of the criminal probe that has seen the Department of Agriculture recover about €1m in overclaims and penalties.
A total of 400 claims issued by one "private agricultural planner" have been investigated by the Department of Agriculture on foot of suspicions of suspected inappropriate expenditure.
Out of those 400 investigated, 290 were found to have included inflated invoices for purchases of trees and hedgerows for fencing under the Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS).
Under the AEOS scheme, farmers who applied to the scheme were entitled to reimbursement of non-productive capital investments to a certain maximum limit.
The scheme was co-funded by the Irish Exchequer and the EU.
"In the region of €3m has been paid out to the 300 or so cases involved up to the period of the commencement of the investigation," said a spokeswoman for Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed.
"Undue payments recovered and penalties imposed are approximately €1m. A small number of cases remain to be completed at this time. The matter is the subject of a criminal investigation and the Department will not be making any further comment," she added.