Wednesday 29 March 2017

Gardai to probe false invoices worth €60,000 at state-aided firm

Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

GARDAI have been called in to investigate allegations about a development company that has received €4m in state assistance.

Officers have been forwarded a file by funding body Pobal outlining how up to €60,000 in taxpayers' money was claimed by Tipperary Hostel Ltd using false invoices.

The company's treasurer, former Fianna Fail councillor Michael Maguire, is employed as a driver for Martin Mansergh, the Minister of State responsible for the Office of Public Works.

The company has spent the past 10 years renovating a famine-era workhouse in Tipperary town, which it plans to turn into tourist accommodation. However, funding was suspended earlier this year and the building is unfinished.

Mr Maguire told the Irish Independent the company accepted false invoices had been used. However, he insisted all of the money drawn down was spent on building work and that no one benefited financially from the irregularities.

Renovation work ground to a halt last April after Pobal, a charity that manages programmes on behalf of the Government and the EU, withdrew funding and began investigating irregularities highlighted by the company's auditors.

The other main funders of the building work, state training agency FAS, also subsequently launched an investigation into how the project was run.

Responding to queries from the Irish Independent, Pobal confirmed it had forwarded the findings of its investigation to gardai in the past week.

"Pobal have no option but to formally advise gardai of the contents of our report. We consider the findings are significant and warrant a garda investigation," a spokesman said.

Auditors

Earlier this year, the company's auditors found almost €45,000 in Pobal funds were drawn down based on invoices for work that wasn't done.

It is understood further investigations saw the figure involved increase to between €50,000 and €60,000.

Mr Maguire accepted there had been "huge irregularities" and that funding money had been "spent unwisely".

He said he would welcome a garda inquiry and would co-operate with it fully.

"The thing is that there were false invoices used. I would expect the gardai to investigate that," he said.

The company's acting chairman Jim O'Shea said he believed no money had been misappropriated for anyone's financial benefit.

"As far as we are concerned, every penny went into the building," he said.

Mr O'Shea added that he was "very disappointed" the project had stalled over the controversy. He also defended the slow pace at which the renovations had been conducted.

"Renovating a building originally built in 1841 is slow work. It is a long process," he said.

Discussions have been held between Pobal, FAS and the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs about ways of getting building work completed since the project stalled. However, informed sources said there had been "very little progress".

Pobal is likely to seek the repayment of "ineligible expenditure" should Tipperary Hostel Ltd secure more funding elsewhere in the future.

FAS's investigation into the running of the project is ongoing. Former workers, who were employed under a jobs initiative scheme, have been questioned by an independent investigator appointed by FAS in the past week.

Irish Independent

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