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Sunday 21 September 2014

Bank staff fired after exposing corrupt official

Banker blew customers' money on horses and travel -- but whistle-blower paid with her job

GREG HARKIN

Published 05/01/2014 | 02:30

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People walk past Ulster Bank headquarters in Dublin
People walk past Ulster Bank headquarters in Dublin

ULSTER Bank fired a whistle-blower who lifted the lid on a senior official who took tens of thousands of euro to feed his addiction to gambling and luxury holidays, the Sunday Independent has learnt.

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The official helped himself to thousands of euro from customers' accounts as well as cash he received from clients to pay off loans.

He also helped himself to an illegal loan during a gambling spree on the horses.

But instead of supporting a member of staff whose diligence led to the detection, Ulster Bank fired her, it has been alleged.

The Sunday Independent has learnt the corrupt official was given a reference and now works at another financial institution in the State.

Details of the case emerged this weekend, just days after an unrelated case in which an industrial tribunal in the North ordered a Stg£29,000 (€35,000) payout to an Ulster Bank whistle-blower in Belfast who told bosses a colleague had stolen Stg£500,000 from the bank's vaults.

The tribunal found that instead of congratulating the whistle-blower, the bank tried to make him a scapegoat for the incident.

The alleged thief -- known only as Mr P -- lived a luxury lifestyle, ran a bank-based gambling syndicate and travelled extensively. The PSNI has launched a criminal investigation into the case.

The separate case in the Republic uncovered by the Sunday Independent involved at least €47,000, but it is understood to be substantially more than that.

The bank launched an internal investigation several years ago after a customer rang the branch asking why thousands of euro he had given the corrupt official had not been taken off a loan. The customer had given the cash to the official, but the transaction had failed to appear on a bank statement.

The investigation found cash had been taken out of another customer's accounts and that the official had deceived other members of staff to authorise transactions in order to get his hands on the cash.

Sources inside the Ulster Bank told the Sunday Independent that the member of staff who found the discrepancies later suffered severe stress as a result of the investigation.

Several months later, staff were told the corrupt official would not be returning to the bank and to "forget about it''.

"The whistle-blower was very distressed by the incident," an Ulster Bank insider said.

"But instead of supporting her, the bank behaved appallingly. The staff member was eventually fired."

Another bank source said the internal investigation found the corrupt official had spent the money on holidays and gambling. "He flew off on holidays with his wife and stayed in the best hotels," said this source.

"But his biggest problem was gambling. He was spending a fortune on the horses.

"Gardai were never called in to investigate the case. In fact the corrupt official got a reference and went on to get a post at another financial institution.

"The customers received their monies back and the bank absorbed the losses."

The Sunday Independent attempted to speak to the whistle-blower, but a friend said she was "far too upset" to talk.

In the separate case in the North, Ulster Bank only called in the PSNI two weeks ago after the conclusion of that case at the tribunal.

The money went missing more than 18 months ago, but the details only emerged during an employment tribunal in Belfast in December.

Despite his role in uncovering what was going on, the whistle-blower -- known only as AB -- did not receive any credit and instead there was an attempt to implicate him, said the tribunal panel.

AB was suspended from his job for six months and described being "made to feel like a criminal". He also suffered from depression as a result.

Ulster Bank refused to comment, saying it doesn't discuss "staff matters".

A PSNI spokesperson said: "Following approaches by the Ulster Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland, the PSNI has initiated an investigation into allegations of criminal activity."

Irish Independent

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