Tuesday 16 January 2018

Builder withheld workers' pension cash during boom

Barry Duggan

A DEVELOPER who withheld 170 employees' pension contributions from their scheme for more than two years during the construction boom was fined €5,000 yesterday.

Peter Stritch (44) of Bellisle Properties, Clonlara, Co Clare, failed to appear in Limerick District Court before Judge Tom O'Donnell yesterday on medical grounds.

The court heard that between October 2006 and December 2008, the well-known developer deducted €53,527.34 from his employees' wages as part of their pension contributions -- but failed to pass them on to the Construction Workers' Pensions Scheme (CWPS).

Judge O'Donnell described the offences as "deliberate" and said it was a "very serious matter".

Mr Stritch is listed as a director of Bellisle Properties, which went into liquidation last March. The court heard that, in accordance with the Pensions Act, Mr Stritch was legally bound to pass his employees' contributions to their pension scheme within 21 days of their being deducted from the wages, but failed to do so.

The average deduction from each employee's wages between €15 and €20 per week, or 7pc of their average construction wage.

The court heard that when the contributions were not passed on to the CWPS, the scheme contacted workers and asked them to study their payslips to see if the pension deductions were taken from their wages. Prior to this, the defendant had paid €9,023.52 to the pension scheme.

Subsequently, the matter was pursued under the Pensions Act, but documentation was not forthcoming from the Clare company.

Head of regulations at the Pensions Board Mary Hutch said Mr Stritch was invited to appear before the board to explain the issue in August 2009 and said he would. However, Ms Hutch told Judge O'Donnell that he failed to appear and no explanation was given.

She told the judge it "proved impossible" to speak to directors of Bellisle Properties.

The judge heard that as part of an arrears schedule agreed by the defendants, two cheques were handed over to the Pensions Board, but "they were dishonoured".

The court heard that at the height of the construction boom, there were 10,500 employers participating in the construction pension scheme for 86,000 members. That figure has since reduced to an estimated 50,000.

Remy Farrell BL said it was necessary to go to the High Court to initiate proceedings against Mr Stritch and Bellisle Properties, as the firm had gone into liquidation.

Pat Barriscale, solicitor for Mr Stritch, said his client had hoped to be in court, but was "medically not fit to do so".

"Mr Stritch has accepted his responsibilities and he knew his obligations as a director of the company."

Mr Stritch pleaded guilty to five charges of breaching the Pensions Act, with 18 other offences struck out.

Judge O'Donnell said he had to be conscious that the offences were committed during the boomtime. He said it was fundamentally wrong.

Mr Stritch was fined €5,000 while Bellisle Properties was fined €5,000 in relation to each of the charges. Costs of €5,000 to the prosecution were also agreed.

Before yesterday's conviction in Limerick District Court for withholding pension contributions, he was brought before the same court more than seven years ago in relation to agricultural offences.

In October 2003, he received a nine-month suspended sentence and was fined €10,000 for illegally moving cattle into a restricted herd between January and May 2001.

In November 2002, he received a four-month suspended sentence and was fined €10,000 for illegally importing 150 cattle from the North contrary to BSE controls.

Irish Independent

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