Wednesday 21 November 2018

Fine Gael politician at centre of Garda planning fraud probe

Exclusive: County councillor under investigation accused of 'attempting to bribe' political rival with offer to re-zone his land

Gardai are investigating a serious complaint of bribery and planning permission fraud against a Fine Gael politician
Gardai are investigating a serious complaint of bribery and planning permission fraud against a Fine Gael politician
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

GARDAI are investigating a serious complaint of bribery and planning permission fraud against a Fine Gael politician, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

If proved, the potentially explosive allegations will raise serious concerns for Taoiseach Enda Kenny. A county councillor has claimed he was approached by a FG councillor who said he would help the councillor secure planning permission for a site he owns if he agreed to cease inquiries he was making about the manner in which a candidate was appointed to a local authority job.

The FG councillor said a senior official within the local authority was also willing to support the planning proposal as long as the councillor ceased his investigations.

The councillor was also told he had to put his land in someone else's name before he applied for planning permission so it would not raise suspicions.

The FG county councillor also suggested he approach a Fianna Fail councillor about the matter, but it is understood this man was not approached in relation to the alleged planning fraud.

Believing the offer to be corrupt, the councillor began recording conversations with the FG councillor.

The Sunday Independent has heard recordings of these conversations, which the councillor also handed over to the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation on November 1.

On the same day, the councillor spoke to gardai for almost three hours detailing the offer he claims was made to him.

In one of the recordings, the FG councillor suggests the senior local authority official is "protecting" the person in relation to whom inquiries were being made by the other local politician.

Two weeks after he started his inquiries, the councillor claims he was approached by a FG councillor who offered to help rezone his land in return for him stopping his inquiries.

It was later decided it was not possible to rezone the councillor's land and he was told to apply for planning permission through a change or a "material contravention" to the country development plan.

In text messages seen by the Sunday Independent, the FG councillor asked the other councillor if he could apply for planning permission in someone else's name.

"No, I have a legal obligation to disclose my interest," the other councillor responded "But can the application go in someone else's name? Sure can't anyone apply for permission?" the FG councillor replied.

In a recorded conversation, which took place in the councillor's office on October 22, the FG councillor says the senior local authority official wants the planning permission applied for under a different name.

"There's two things, he said, 'he can't put in the application in his own name'," he says in the recording.

"In fact, he said if you can put the land in someone else's name it would be better and he said 'I'll do it'."

The councillor then asks: "So I have to dispose of the land to someone else? To get someone else, a prospective buyer."

"Exactly, and you stay away from hell from it," the FG councillor responded.

The councillor also asks if the county council official "promised" to help get him planning permission if he became a "silent partner" in his own land, to which FG councillor responds, "yes".

The FG councillor adds: "Well, the easiest way for it to happen is this way. Sure my next door neighbour can apply for planning on my field."

A change to a county development plan needs to be approved by two-thirds of the council. The FG councillor suggests that the other councillor should approach a local Fianna Fail councillor to ensure the planning permission is passed.

"You have to plan these things like for them to work so if [the Fianna Fail councillor] was in it would guarantee the Fianna Fail vote," he said.

"You have to get two-thirds vote. If [the local authority official] wanted to go down on bended knee and give it to you, you still have to have two-thirds to get it across the line."

The Sunday Independent understands the Fianna Fail councillor was not approached by either councillor and was unaware of plans to secure planning permission.

On October 29, the councillor rang the local authority official and asked him if he was "au fait" with the FG councillor's plan to secure planning permission. In a recording of that conversation, the official says: "He has mentioned some representations on your behalf, yes".

When asked if he will recommend the change to the county development plan, the official responds: "Could I suggest you leave it with Councillor [name deleted] and let him handle it."

Following a series of questions from the Sunday Independent, the FG councillor said he was unaware he had been recorded but would not have "conversed differently" had he known. He claimed he had asked the councillor to stop his inquiries into the local authority appointment because he feared it would "bring into the public domain information adverse to an entirely innocent" individual.

He also claimed he suggested approaching the Fianna Fail councillor because he believed the councillor who owned the land lacked "the core competency and skill set to deliver the project". And he claimed he did not mention this to the councillor because he did not want to offend him.

The senior county council official denies any wrongdoing and said he did not ask the FG councillor to approach the other councillor in relation to planning permission or any other matter.

Sunday Independent

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