Saturday 20 April 2019

Bertie cleared of making up false expense claims

DPP finds 'no evidence' to prosecute the former Taoiseach after Garda fraud squad investigation

Bertie Ahern
Bertie Ahern
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will not be prosecuted over allegations he made fraudulent expense claims, the Sunday Independent has learned.

Mr Ahern was the subject of a garda investigation after a member of the public lodged a complaint about expenses he filed after he was forced to step down as leader of the country.

The Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation prepared a file on the allegations which was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

However, after examining the file the DPP decided there was no evidence to prosecute the former Fianna Fail leader.

Gardai were investigating whether it was legal for Mr Ahern to claim travel and accommodation allowances, which is paid to reimburse deputies and senators for work related travel expenses, while he had 24/7 use of a State car and garda driver.

When asked about the case by the Sunday Independent earlier this year, Mr Ahern insisted he did nothing wrong when he made the expense claim.

"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. "It's set down statutorily and I would have stuck by whatever the rules were. Nobody was in touch with me either from the Oireachtas or the guards."

Mr Ahern's former Fianna Fail colleague Ivor Callely is currently serving a prison sentence for fraudulently filing mobile phone expense claims.

Retired builder John Wolfe, who says he is former Fianna Fail member, lodged the complaint against Mr Ahern after accessing his expense claims under the Freedom of Information Act.

After requesting an update on the case from the Garda Fraud Squad, Mr Wolfe was told the DPP would not be proceeding any further.

In a letter to Mr Wolf, a detective superintendent wrote: "An investigation was conducted and an investigation file was forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions."

He added: "The Director of Public Prosecutions has directed no prosecutions as no evidence exists that would justify a criminal prosecution."

Mr Wolfe and accountant Enid O'Dowd recently lodged a High Court action challenging the legality of the controversial 'clock-in' expenses paid to deputies and senators.

Mr Wolfe first lodged a complaint about Mr Ahern's expense claims in 2012. He was questioned by gardai in his local Malahide Garda Station in December of that year. He provided gardai with copies of expense claims made by Mr Ahern which showed he claimed the full amount of travel and accommodation allowance (TAA) permitted for a TD living in Dublin. Mr Ahern claimed €12,000 in TAA between March 2010 and February 2011.

At the time, Mr Ahern was a backbench TD after he stepped down as Taoiseach following the publication of the Mahon Report. As a Dail deputy he was entitled to certain allowances to cover the cost of travelling to and from work, and for constituency travel.

Members are required to sign a 'certificate of expenditure' confirming the expenses were incurred travelling to and from Leinster House from their normal place of residence and on overnight or travel expenses incurred performing their duties.

As a former Taoiseach, Mr Ahern was also entitled to a full-time garda driver and a State car paid for by the taxpayer.

Mr Wolfe claimed Mr Ahern could not have incurred the full amount of travel expenses because he also had a State car.

The State car entitlement for former Taoisigh was abolished by former Justice Minister Alan Shatter in 2011.

Mr Wolfe wrote the DPP this week questioning the decision not to prosecute Mr Ahern.

The late Finance Minister Brian Lenihan introduced a new expenses system for TDs and Senators in March 2010.

The system, which is still in place, requires members of the Oireachtas to 'clock in' to work with an electronic fob to receive their full expenses system. Politicians must attend work in Leinster House at least 120 days per Dail term to receive their full expenses.

The payments are made to deputies and senators based on their proximity from Leinster House and it also takes into account constituency travel.

There are currently 12 bands, ranging from €9,000 paid annually to Dublin TDs to €32,535 paid to politicians based more than 350km from their Kildare Street office.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section