Sunday 17 December 2017

‘Visa abuses’ at colleges set for probe by gardai

Ex-bookkeeper claims she saw bags of cash in Eden College before it closed

Eden College on Dublins Burgh Quay.
Pic Frank Mc Grath
Eden College on Dublins Burgh Quay. Pic Frank Mc Grath
Students and state agencies are pursuing Eden College, owned by Fakir Hossain, for almost €1m. Photo: Collins
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

THE garda fraud squad has been “directly briefed” by the Department of Justice about language schools that abruptly closed last month, with one owing €1.3m, most of it to State authorities and hundreds of students.

Eden College and the Irish Business School are among five language colleges that shut down amid allegations that some schools falsified attendance records of non-EU students, to comply with their visa requirements.

Senior Justice officials have given details of their inquiries to the Garda National Bureau of Fraud Investigations.

Although the officials did not make a formal complaint, a source said detectives were “directly briefed” on the issue, and it was now up to the Garda fraud squad as to how it proceeds.

The development follows the Government’s clampdown on private language colleges since allegations emerged that some were abusing the visa system for overseas students.

They include Eden College on Burgh Quay in Dublin, which is owned by a computer programmer from Bangladesh called Fakir Hossain (41) who has a Master’s degree from Dublin City University.

Mr Hossain, who lives in Finglas with his wife and family, bought Eden College in 2011 from its previous owners, and bought the Irish Business School the same year. He also bought into an English college in London, Eden College International.

His wife, Hasina Akter, is co-director of the company that owns Eden College. He rents out student accommodation in Finglas. He is also involved in a social media loyalty-building firm.

He had ambitions for Eden College, appointing a former Minister for Education, Batt O’Keeffe, as president — on a reported fee of €75,000.

But in December, the Irish authorities decided to suspend Eden College from the register of approved colleges.

There was further fall-out in February from a BBC documentary that claimed its sister college, Eden College International, was falsifying attendance records for non-EU students.

In April, an undercover reporter for the Sunday Times claimed Eden College was one of four colleges that allegedly offered to falsify records for non-EU students, allowing them skip classes to work.

Eden College closed its doors in late April, quickly followed by the Irish Business School.

At an angry creditors’ meeting for Eden College last month, Fakir Hossain denied “trousering” the school fees.

An interim report by the liquidator, seen by the Sunday Independent, found that between September last year and April, more than 15 lumpsums totalling €403,000, were withdrawn from the company bank accounts. Mr Hossain was the sole signatory on the accounts, according to the liquidator, Anthony Fitzpatrick.

He was unable to identify where the money went, or who received it. On foot of these transactions, he sought a High Court order freezing Mr Hossain’s assets.

Nevertheless, Mr Fitzpatrick said he “received excellent cooperation and assistance” from the director on “all aspects of my investigations.”

A number of creditors of Eden College, including Revenue and Dublin City Council, want to replace  Mr Fitzpatrick as liquidator with their own nominee. They have highlighted as matters of concern a €100,000 payment to a software firm owned by Mr Hossain’s father, and €800,000 transferred out of Eden College to a firm owned by Mr Hossain and his wife in “suspicious circumstances.”

Separately, a creditors’ meeting for the Irish Business School was told that substantial sums had been transferred out of its accounts without the directors’ authorisation.

Mr Hossain was not a director but the beneficial owner of the school. For some reason, he concealed this by keeping his shares in trust. His involvement only emerged after the school closed.

One ex-employee, Laura, who worked as a part-time bookkeeper and administrator, recalled seeing wads of cash in the offices, shortly before it closed.

She was owed two months’ wages, and was told to report to a room on the second floor of the Burgh Quay building where Eden College is based. 

“The door opened with a key from inside. I saw a lot of cash on the table, at least one or two bags,” she said. She said the cash had been withdrawn from a bank, as the notes were contained in wrappers.”

Declan de Lacy has been appointed provisional liquidator and will examine the

accounts of the business school.

At Eden College, Mr Hossain has admitted liabilities of more than €1.3m .The biggest creditor is himself. He says he or his companies are owed €460,000. Revenue is owed €257,000, Dublin City Council is owed €220,000 and the Aviation Authority is owed €300,000 in rent.

Batt O’Keeffe’s son, whose accountancy firm did work for the school, is owed more than €19,000.

Batt O’Keeffe, who resigned as president of Eden College, declined to comment this weekend, other than to say his work involved a couple of hours’ advice a week.

Meanwhile 216 students claim they are owed €337,000.  It emerged last week that

neither Eden College nor the Irish Business School passed on the students’ insurance premiums to the insurers.

The liquidator is disputing what, if anything the students are owed. Meanwhile, the Government has set up a task force to assist them. A hearing related to a student’s High Court challenge of Mr Fitzpatrick’s appointment as liquidator is due in the High Court this week.

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