Thursday 22 February 2018

New CRC revelations: Flights, credit cards and secret payouts

* Email shows CRC misled its own staff on salary top-ups
* Pandora's Box of charity payments now being probed

The Westin in Vancouver. Inset: The Panamericano in Buenos Aires. Right: Simon Hall
The Westin in Vancouver. Inset: The Panamericano in Buenos Aires. Right: Simon Hall

Daniel McConnell, Sam Griffin and Eilish O'Regan

A major probe is under way into salaries, pension and credit card payments at the crisis-hit Central Remedial Clinic as the controversy continues over its misuse of charity funds.

The HSE's interim administrator is now investigating a vast series of payments and transactions involving the CRC, its fundraising arm and an associated medical company.

The debacle hit a new low this week as it emerged former chief executive Paul Kiely walked away with a gold-plated pay-off worth €742,000 drawn from charity funds, with mounting calls for the gardai to become involved in probing how the clinic was managed.

In a shocking new development, it emerged that staff were assured as recently as November that public donations were not being used to fund top-ups.

The 300 staff at the CRC, who have been left furious at the ongoing scandal, believe they were misled by the email sent on November 22 on behalf of former CRC chairman Jim Nugent.

The Irish Independent has also learnt that another donation of €783,064 to the CRC from its charitable arm has become the fresh focus of investigation.

The transfer was made in 2010 from the Friends and Supporters Fund into the CRC main fund, in a similar fashion to the €742,000 that was used to fund Mr Kiely's pension pot in June last year.

The €783,064 "donation to CRC" entry in the accounts is separate to €3m transferred over from the Friends and Supporters Fund in 2012 to rescue the CRC pension fund.

It is also separate to €742,000 transferred last June to fund Mr Kiely's package.

But as the probe into the use of charity cash intensifies, it still remains unclear what this money was used for.

HSE Director General Tony O'Brien yesterday branded the payment of the pension pot to Mr Kiely a "betrayal," of the staff and patients of the CRC.

He said that the HSE is not ruling out taking civil action against the under-fire former CEO. He also said the investigations will determine exactly "who misled who" on the board.

Both Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Health Minister James Reilly paid a low key visit to the clinic yesterday as staff struggled to come to terms with the crisis.

And a senior member of staff at the CRC school spoke out about how she felt they had been "lied to" by the board of directors.

Deputy Principal Mary Saunders said: "When things did start coming out they lied and they lied again and then they twisted this bit and they turned that bit. It just seemed there was no truth in it."

As the controversy continues to rage, the Irish Independent has also learned:

* Credit card payments to four senior managers at the CRC from a Visa Business credit card account of an associated commercial company, CRC Medical Devices, are under investigation. The four people included senior manager Simon Hall.

* Mr Hall and other senior managers are also under pressure to explain exotic trips taken to conferences at Nashville, Orlando, Vancouver, Buenos Aires and New Delhi between 2006 and 2012, which were paid for by the CRC.

* Book-keeping and governance practices have been branded as "chaotic" and "shambolic".

The HSE Interim Administrator John Cregan met with Ernst & Young yesterday to "get a firm grip" on all financial matters at the CRC.

Mr Hall failed to respond to Irish Independent queries yesterday. A number of former members of the board were also unavailable for comment.

Meanwhile, political and public pressure intensified on Mr Kiely to return the controversial €742,000 pension pot paid to him on his retirement last June.

Mr Reilly has said Mr Kiely should immediately return the unauthorised pension package.

Several members of the PAC said that it is clear from the information presented by the HSE that further revelations are inevitable.

PAC Chairman John McGuinness said: "It is shameful and outrageous that the board should have approved that kind of payment and that they would have gone out of their way to put in place an agreement that stated it was confidential and should not be spoken about.

"They deliberately constructed to mislead and to hide the fact that this was publicly collected money from voluntary sources that they were paying to Mr Kiely," he added.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin branded the revelations about Mr Kiely's pension as "disgusting". He added that in light of this the State has no choice but to take over the CRC.

Irish Independent

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