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Tuesday 16 January 2018

EU fraud watchdog set to probe mystery Garda bank account

Investigation would mark an escalation of the controversy over training college finances

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and Deputy Commissioner John Twomey arriving at the Public Accounts Committee. Photo: Tom Burke
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and Deputy Commissioner John Twomey arriving at the Public Accounts Committee. Photo: Tom Burke
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

European Union watchdog OLAF is poised to probe the suspected fraudulent use of EU funds provided to gardaí which ended up in a mysterious Dublin bank account.

A full-scale investigation by the agency - which probes allegations of fraud against the EU budget - would mark a further escalation in the controversy over finances at the Garda Training College at Templemore.

It is understood that the suspected fraud involves EU funds, which were supposed to be used for Garda training purposes, being transferred to a bank account in Cabra, Dublin, from the training college in Templemore.

Last night OLAF confirmed it was aware of the matter. A statement said that specialised experts evaluate incoming information of potential investigative interest according to standard procedures.

They decide if there is "sufficient suspicion of fraud, corruption or any illegal activity affecting the EU's financial interests for OLAF to open a case" and if the information falls within the agency's investigative priorities.

The statement said that after this initial assessment, OLAF will decide whether or not to open an investigation.

It said the assessment "does not mean that the individuals are guilty of any wrongdoing" and that "OLAF fully respects the presumption of innocence".

"At this stage, OLAF will not issue further comments," the statement said.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan referred the suspected fraud to domestic watchdog, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) on Monday night.

She told the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) she did this after the head of the Garda internal audit unit, Niall Kelly, provided her with a report on the matter that day.

She said Mr Kelly reported he has "reasonable cause to suspect that potentially there may be criminal activity, fraudulent activity, on the [Cabra] account".

During her appearance at the PAC - which is examining financial irregularities at the training college - Ms O'Sullivan also told TDs that Mr Kelly informed OLAF about the issue.

Ms O'Sullivan refused to name a former senior garda who was the most recent signatory of the bank account, saying there has to be "due process and fairness to individuals".

Read More: O'Sullivan faces renewed calls to go over college finances furore

She indicated that the account had different signatories over the years it was in existence - 1999 to 2010 - and the most recent is "a retired senior officer". Ms O'Sullivan told TDs that the account was open between 1999 and 2010 and it contained €90,000 at its height. She rejected suggestions it was "convenient" that she couldn't answer some questions due to the matter being referred to GSOC, saying that "under no circumstances" was this done to "keep it from public view".

Meanwhile, the force last night refused to answer any questions about a 2010 email written by its finance boss Michael Culhane to the Department of Justice.

In the email, Mr Culhane appears to suggest that he indicated that Templemore Training College had "charitable status" in a letter to Revenue in order to "muddy things up".

Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry revealed the email during the PAC's meeting on Tuesday and said it was "particularly troubling".

The Irish Independent asked for a statement from Mr Culhane or the Garda seeking clarification on what was meant by the "muddy things up" remark.

A Garda spokesman said: "An Garda Síochána is not commenting on any matters that may be before (the) PAC."

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said it would be "inappropriate to offer any comment at this stage", pointing out that there is an ongoing process at the PAC which will "deliver its report in due course".

Irish Independent

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