Thursday 22 February 2018

Group of gardai lose €2m in Byrne property fraud

JIM CUSACK

A GROUP of gardai who individually borrowed large sums of money to invest in property are understood to have lost €2m as part of the massive fraud carried out by solicitor Thomas Byrne.

Sources in An Garda Siochana say eight Dublin gardai borrowed around €250,000 each to buy a property in north inner Dublin, which they intended to convert into apartments. Sources say the transaction was never completed, after it emerged the money was missing.

The garda losses were not mentioned in the case against Byrne, who was convicted on 50 counts of fraud totalling €51.8m and who faces sentencing early next month.

Gardai say that the syndicate of detectives involved with Byrne are not the only gardai who made losses in the property market collapse.

A number of senior gardai followed the syndicate into the property market at the height of the bubble and have suffered significant losses, it is said. In one instance, three senior officers are said to have borrowed in the region of €800,000 to invest in properties and have made substantial losses. They were not involved with Byrne.

Garda sources say that the senior officers involved in the property speculation borrowed from the Garda's St Raphael's Credit Union and also from banks. St Raphael's has unpaid loans on a similar ratio to other major credit unions, with about 10 per cent of loans behind in payments or written off. Under Garda regulations, members of the force are not allowed to be in a situation where they are unable to repay debts and gardai accumulating unsustainable debt can face suspension or dismissal.

The Garda Disciplinary Regulations make "incurring and refusing or neglecting to pay any lawful debt, or becoming bankrupt, or seeking the protection of the Court from process at the suit of his creditors" a disciplinary matter, potentially leading to suspension or dismissal.

Earlier this year, it emerged the Government was considering changes to the garda disciplinary code to allow debt-laden gardai to qualify for the insolvency scheme. During the period of rising property prices – and abundant garda overtime – many younger gardai took out large mortgages and borrowed from the garda credit unions to fund lifestyles they can no longer afford.

In March, the issue of garda insolvency was raised in the Dail, with Labour TDs calling for changes to the Garda regulations for gardai to be allowed to avail of the terms of the Personal Insolvency bill.

The disciplinary regulations about garda indebtedness were introduced in 1923 in legislation setting up the force and were intended to prevent corruption. In March it emerged that €13,000, the proceeds of a robbery, had been stolen from a safe in Balbriggan garda station. And in June it further emerged that €29,000 in cash, also the proceeds of a robbery, was missing from Malahide garda station.

One garda was arrested and questioned in relation to the theft from Balbriggan station, but no charges have been brought. No arrests have been made in relation to the money missing from Malahide.

Sunday Independent

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