Sunday 25 February 2018

Garda unit raids Console HQ as probe hots up

Computers and documents seized as part of investigation into alleged company law breaches

OVER: David Hall, who called time on Paul Kelly’s ‘hopelessly insolvent’ charity. Picture by Fergal Phillips
OVER: David Hall, who called time on Paul Kelly’s ‘hopelessly insolvent’ charity. Picture by Fergal Phillips
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The offices of the beleaguered suicide charity Console were raided by gardai as the criminal investigation into the lavish spending and alleged governance breaches by its founder, Paul Kelly, intensified.

Detectives attached to the Office for the Director of Corporate Enforcement arrived at the Celbridge HQ on Thursday night without warning and with a search warrant, and are understood to have retrieved computers, files and other records.

The agency - which also led the inquiry into Anglo Irish Bank - is investigating multiple allegations of breaches of company law and false accounting at the suicide bereavement charity.

Gardai decided to swoop on Console's headquarters, which used to be Mr Kelly's family home, on the same day as a liquidator was appointed to the charity and the announcement that its suicide phone line and counselling services are being taken over by Pieta House. Informed sources said that investigators wanted to secure the internal computers and records that might be relevant to their inquiries.

The investigation by the office for the Director of Corporate Enforcement is one of seven currently under way and is probing whether any criminal breaches of company law and corporate governance took place at the charity.

An internal audit for the HSE claimed that the charity appointed directors without their knowledge, and accounts were altered when applying for state funds.

The appointment of the liquidator, Tom Murray, on Thursday was the culmination of a scandal that has raged for weeks over how Console's CEO Mr Kelly, his wife Patricia and their son Tim, who were directors, racked up huge spending on credit cards registered to the charity.

Read more: 'Why did everyone sit on their backsides after Prime Time?' - Former interim CEO of Console David Hall criticises reaction to charity controversy

Read more: Pieta House to take over services of scandal-hit Console following HSE agreement

Concerns about Console were first raised in a Prime Time documentary on June 23. In the fallout, businessman and campaigner David Hall was brought in as interim chief executive and within days he asked the High Court to freeze the charity's accounts and assets. Details from the internal HSE audit revealed how Mr Kelly, his wife and son accounted for spending of almost €1m over three years, in salaries, cars and on credit cards for clothes, groceries and foreign travel.

Last weekend, it emerged that a horse owned by the Kellys was stolen from its Longford stables in the aftermath of the scandal, by men pretending to be gardai. The horse was bought last year for €37,500 and a trade-in pony. It is understood that gardai have identified a number of possible suspects.

After three weeks of turmoil, last Thursday marked the end of the road for Console. The High Court heard it was "hopelessly insolvent". Mr Hall told the court it had debts of €294,000, and had been loss-making for years, even though the accounts might have shown otherwise.

There were more twists to the saga yesterday, when the HSE appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

It emerged that in 2008, a HSE executive was appointed chief executive with Console, with the agreement that his old job would be left open for him. He left Console after 12 months or so and is back working for the HSE.

Fianna Fail TD Marc MacSharry said: "My understanding is somebody in a quasi-secondment applied for a job in Console, got it, was CEO for a period, now they are back with the HSE...What I am asking is did the internal audit consult at any time with this person now that they are back in the HSE and at the end of a phone to you guys." The answer was no.

Sinn Fein TD David Cullinane said there was a nine-year gap between the first concerns raised about Console in 2006 by a former staff member and the internal HSE audit which revealed the massive scale of spending. He said an official in the National Office of Suicide Prevention wrote a memo highlighting "deficiencies" in Console's governance and accounting, and in 2011 further concerns were raised with Department of Health.

The PAC heard that in 2011, a staff member in the Oireachtas told a principal officer in the Department of Health about Mr Kelly impersonating a doctor in the late 1980s, after which the civil servant invited Mr Kelly to the department to discuss it. "It was ascertained at that meeting that Mr Kelly had impersonated a doctor in Dublin hospital in the late 1980s. The Probation Act was applied at that point. Mr Kelly gave the explanation of it being a prank in his student days." She said there was no record that the department had informed the HSE.

This weekend, Tommy Morris, a former parliamentary assistant, confirmed he was the "staff member" but he insisted that he also briefed the principal officer on Mr Kelly's association with previous charities and how the charity should be audited.

Tony O'Brien defended the HSE. He said it was not "the regulator of charities" and had properly audited Console. The HSE's national director for mental health, Anne O'Connor, said the HSE had brought in Console and signed it up to a formal management process. When funding increased in 2013, the HSE got greater oversight of Console, and last year began an internal audit that took a year to complete, largely because of the "considerable resistance" from Mr Kelly.

Sunday Independent

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