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Friday 24 November 2017

Taxpayers picked up the tab for lavish expenses

Paul Melia

Paul Melia

DETAILS of lavish spending at the state training agency FAS caused a public outcry when they first emerged in November 2008.

Spending on first-class flights for officials and their wives, luxury hotels, gourmet meals and rounds of golf were routine for executives.

A key figure in the controversy was Greg Craig, the 47-year-old director of corporate affairs, who joined FAS in 1993. His credit card was used to pay many of the bills.

He has repeatedly insisted that he was made a "scapegoat" for the lavish spending regime at FAS.

An astonishing €400,000 was racked up on his credit card between 2000 and 2008 as executives wined and dined their way around the world at the taxpayer's expense.

Flights and hotel bills costing almost €330,000 were charged to Mr Craig's executive Visa card, including a bill for €68,600 for the Affinia Hotel in New York, and another €20,000 at Fitzpatrick's Hotel on Lexington Avenue.

Another €50,000 was spent in restaurants and bars in Dublin, New York, Brussels, Florida, Moscow and Warsaw.

A damning report from the Comptroller and Auditor General, published in January of last year, also found that FAS spent more than €48m on advertising, promotion and related activities between 2000 and 2008 -- but the spending lacked strategic direction and much of it was ineffective in increasing awareness of its services.

The spend included €600,000 on a TV advertisement that was never broadcast.

Mr Craig earned an annual salary of €93,000. He has repeatedly insisted that he never benefitted personally from any spending and that his superiors approved all expenditure.

The father of three, who lives in Terenure, Dublin, said he had been made a "scapegoat" for lax controls. He was suspended in November 2008.

Mr Craig was later reinstated, but sidelined to director of health and safety while retaining his salary. He is the only FAS employee to have been dismissed in the fall-out from the expenses and spending scandals.

Former director-general Rody Molloy resigned in November 2008, insisting until the end that all the spending was justified and that he was "entitled" to fly first-class.

Yesterday's settlement includes a provision that allows the partial release of a report from accountants Mazars, which examined how allegations of overspending were handled -- and which Mr Craig claims vindicates him.

The report is understood to shed light on allegations that FAS gave inaccurate information to the Dail Public Accounts Committee in 2008. It also deals with a claim from Mr Craig that medical details concerning him and his family had been leaked.

Last September, he was told his contract was being terminated, a decision which Mr Craig appealed and which resulted in yesterday's settlement.

As part of the settlement, FAS agreed to apologise to Mr Craig in relation to findings made by Mazars.

Mr Craig has also agreed to waive confidentiality and allow Mazars release to the Public Accounts Committee information it has in its possession relating to him.

Irish Independent

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