Wednesday 26 April 2017

Wallace risks going to jail for holding staff pension cash

Independent TD failed to pay contributions into fund, court told

Dearbhail McDonald, Donal O'Donovan and Michael Brennan

INDEPENDENT TD Mick Wallace faces the threat of jail for failing to pay staff contributions into their pension fund.

Mr Wallace yesterday agreed to pay more than €45,000 to the Construction Workers Pension Scheme (CWPS), but is still being prosecuted by the Pensions Board in the district court.

Construction firms are legally obliged to take money from workers and pay it into the scheme.

Last month two company directors from Wexford were jailed for five months each for failing to pass on their employees' pension deductions to the CWPS. The pension revelation comes after Mr Wallace was ordered to repay more than €19m to ACC bank, which could lead to him losing his family home and Dail seat.

Mr Wallace, in his customary pink polo shirt, attended the Commercial Court where High Court Judge Mr Justice Peter Kelly heard that the Wexford TD had no defence to the €19m debt action pursued by ACC.

The personal debt action leaves Mr Wallace at risk of losing his home, cars and other assets. "It's not possible to pay it back. I don't have it," he said last night.

If ACC decides to move a bankruptcy action against him, he could also lose his Dail seat and be compelled to provide a full statement of affairs of all his assets and liabilities.

Also yesterday, Mr Wallace's company M&J Wallace, which is in receivership, was prosecuted at Dublin's District Court for allegedly taking workers' pension contributions from their wages but not paying them to the CWPS.

As well as the company, Mr Wallace is being prosecuted by the Pensions Board in his personal capacity as a director of M&J Wallace.

The CWPS is the special pension scheme for construction workers which covers pension, death in service and sick pay.

The Pensions Board and Mr Wallace's legal team yesterday agreed to adjourn the criminal case until December, subject to an agreement to pay more than €45,000 to the CWPS scheme.

Mr Wallace could not be contacted for comment last night.

As a TD, he is entitled to an annual salary of €92,000. In the Dail, he has repeatedly raised the issue of pensions.

Last May, he criticised the Government for putting a levy on private pensions to fund its 'Jobs Initiative', and even accused it of robbing people of their savings.

"The most disappointing element of the programme is the picking on pension schemes to come up with money," he said at the time.

"It does not grow on trees and must come from somewhere, but it is unfortunate that many of the people who made sacrifices during the years to save for pensions are to be treated unfairly. As Deputy Shane Ross stated yesterday, it is as if we are robbing them for their savings. It is not right."

And in the Dail last July, he opposed the bill being brought forward by the Government to increase the age for claiming a state pension from 65 to 66 in 2014 and up to 68 in 2028.

"It suits the large corporations and big business for the working age to be increased but it is hardly in the best interests of ordinary people," he said.

Mr Wallace gave an interview to RTE News last night in which he said that his good relationship with ACC Bank over a 12-year period had "gone sour of late".

"They have threatened me with bankruptcy if I don't co-operate. I have no idea whether they actually plan to do it," he said.

Mr Wallace will have to quit his Dail seat if he is declared bankrupt because the 1992 Electoral Act forbids bankrupts from office. Mr Wallace said he was co-operating with ACC and was giving it rent for the properties it had in its name.

Rent

"We were keeping a small portion for management costs, but they were getting the vast majority of the rent," he said.

Mr Wallace confirmed his company owed money to sub-contractors --a figure he once put at €1m -- and to the Revenue Commissioners.

He also said he owed money to three other banks besides ACC -- AIB, Ulster Bank and Bank of Scotland. And he said that he could not pay back the €19m judgment which ACC Bank secured against him and his company, M&J Wallace.

Independent Dublin North Central TD Finian McGrath, who is chairman of the Independents' technical group in the Dail, said Mr Wallace was popular with other members.

"He would be a sad loss to the Dail if he was ever found bankrupt. There is massive sympathy for him," he said. The other members of the technical group include Socialist Party TDs Joe Higgins and Claire Daly who often complain about the activities of developers in the Dail.

Irish Independent

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