Tuesday 19 February 2019

Bertie Ahern did meet gardai over expenses fraud claims

Bertie Ahern
Bertie Ahern

PHILIP RYAN

FORMER Taoiseach Bertie Ahern did meet with gardai to discuss allegations that he fraudulently claimed Dail expenses, it has emerged.

It was previously reported Mr Ahern was not interviewed by gardai investigating claims he wrongly filed €12,000 travel and accommodation allowances when he had round-the-clock use of a garda-driven State car.

However, the Sunday Independent has learned Mr Ahern did meet with the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation following a complaint from a member of the public.

The former Fianna Fail leader presented himself to fraud squad detectives based in Harcourt Street after details of the allegations were revealed in this newspaper last year.

Mr Ahern, who resigned from Fianna Fail in the wake of the damning findings of the Mahon Tribunal, is understood to have co-operated fully with the garda investigation.

It is understood the discussions between Mr Ahern and gardai were "informal" and he was not questioned under caution.

Gardai also spoke to the Houses of the Oireachtas officials who are understood to have said Mr Ahern's expense claims were within the regulations.

Investigating gardai prepared a file for the Director of Public Prosecutions, who subsequently ruled there was no evidence to prosecute Mr Ahern.

The Garda investigation was sparked by a complaint from former Fianna Fail member and retired builder John Wolfe.

Mr Wolfe claims Mr Ahern could not have incurred more than €10,000 in travel and accommodation expenses when he lived less than 10km from the Dail and had the use of a garda-driven State car.

Mr Wolfe obtained Mr Ahern's expense claims under the Freedom of Information Act and got written confirmation from the Department of Justice that the former Taoiseach had a State car when he received the allowance.

When Mr Ahern resigned as Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fail in 2008, he remained a backbench TD for two-and-a-half years.

At the time, he did not have a driver's licence, but had a chauffeur-driven, taxpayer-funded State car.

Mr Ahern also claimed the full allowance available to Dublin deputies for travelling to and from Leinster House, which came to €1,000 a month.

He signed a form certifying the entire amount was spent on such activities.

Mr Wolfe maintained Mr Ahern could not have spent the full amount because of his access to a State car and two full-time drivers.

After the DPP ruled Mr Ahern had no case to answer, Mr Wolfe wrote to its office asking for a detailed explanation for not prosecuting the politician. He cited EU legislation which, he claimed, meant he was entitled to an explanation for the decision.

However, the DPP responded by saying it was not obliged to give him a reason for its decision. It said it only gave reasons for its decisions to the families of murder victims.

Mr Wolfe has since written to Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan asking her to review the investigation into Mr Ahern.

He also wrote to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) asking it to examine Mr Ahern's expenses.

However, the PAC received legal advice warning against investigating Mr Wolfe's allegations as a garda investigation did not find any evidence which merited a prosecution.

Mr Ahern has always insisted he broke no law when he claimed the expenses.

"The fact I had a car or not has nothing to do with it. The expenses, as I remember at that time, weren't related to your car, it was to do with your constituency," he said at the time.

"It's set down statutorily and I would have stuck by whatever the rules were."

Sunday Independent

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