Bertie Ahern facing investigation over claims for expenses
Ex-Taoiseach unaware of fraud probe and insists he stuck by rules
BERTIE Ahern is being investigated by the Garda Fraud Squad for allegedly making "fraudulent" expense claims.
However, when he was approached by the Sunday Independent this weekend, the former Taoiseach insisted he knew nothing about the investigation, which was sparked by a complaint from a member of the public.
The allegations relate to travel and accommodation allowances Mr Ahern received while he was entitled to a State car and garda driver.
Gardai confirmed an investigation is under way into payments received by the former Fianna Fail leader.
"The matter is currently under investigation with the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigations," a spokeswoman told the Sunday Independent. But Mr Ahern said he did not have a "clue" about the complaint to gardai and insisted he never claimed any expenses he wasn't entitled to.
"The fact I had a car or not has nothing to do with it. The expenses, as I remember at that time, weren't related to your car, it was to do with your constituency," he said.
He added: "It's set down statutorily and I would have stuck by whatever the rules were. Nobody was in touch with me either from the Oireachtas or the guards."
While Mr Ahern has not been contacted by detectives, sources have said gardai are taking the matter seriously.
One source said: "If an allegation is made it has to be investigated and all the relevant elements have to be taken in and if appropriate a file will be sent to the DPP."
The complaint, by Dubliner John Wolfe, centres on payments to Mr Ahern under the travel and accommodation allowance (TAA) scheme after he stepped down as the party's leader.
According to Oireachtas regulations, TDs and senators can claim the payment for "overnight expenses and travel expenses, which the member is obliged to incur in the performance of his or her duties as a member of Dail Eireann".
The documents show Mr Ahern signed two "statement of payment and attendance" records certifying that the allowance paid to him "was applied in respect of expenses incurred" under the terms of the regulations.
Mr Wolfe, who says he is a former Fianna Fail member, alleges that Mr Ahern could not have incurred the full amount of expenses because he had a State car provided on 24/7 basis.
Mr Ahern remained a TD after he resigned from the party in 2008 but, unlike his backbench colleagues, he had around-the-clock use of a garda driver and State car because he was a former Taoiseach. He did not have a drivers' licence and was chauffeur-driven for almost 20 years.
Mr Ahern was forced to get back behind the wheel when Justice Minister Alan Shatter abolished the entitlement for former office holders to save the State €4m annually.
Documents seen by the Sunday Independent show Ahern received €12,000 under the TAA system between March 2010 and February 2011.
Deputies are statutorily entitled to the full allowance once they clock into Leinster House a minimum of 120 days during the Dail term.
They are required to sign a 'certificate of expenditure' confirming the expenses were incurred travelling to and from Leinster House from their normal place of residence and on overnight or travel expenses incurred performing their duties.
Mr Wolfe made a written complaint to the fraud squad in August last year, which was acknowledged by gardai later that month.
He received a second letter entitled "allegation of fraudulent travel expenses by Mr Bertie Ahern" on September 24, informing him the matter had been forwarded to gardai in Coolock.
Mr Wolfe, a retired builder who lives in Malahide, north Dublin, was interviewed by a detective in December.
The retiree ran as independent candidate in the Howth-Malahide constituency in the last local elections.
In March 2010, then finance minister, the late Brian Lenihan introduced the unvouched system of expenses to cover the cost of travel and accommodation for elected representatives.
The payments are made to deputies and senators based on their proximity from Leinster House and it also takes into account constituency travel. There are currently 12 bands, ranging from €9,000 paid annually to Dublin TDs to €32,535 paid to politicians based more than 350km from their Kildare Street office.
Deputies are required to clock in with an electronic fob to prove 120 days' attendance.
If they do not meet the requirement they are required to refund one per cent of their travel and accommodation allowance for each day missed.
Prior to the current system, TDs submitted expense claims for a daily allowance based on the number of days they worked.