FORMER minister Ned O'Keeffe faces the prospect of up to 10 years in jail if convicted of using fake invoices to claim Dail expenses.
The millionaire farmer was arrested at his Cork home by officers of the Dublin-based National Bureau of Fraud Investigations (NBFI).
The 69-year-old was taken to Cobh Garda Station and was questioned about an alleged offence under Section 26 of the Criminal Justice Theft & Fraud Amendment Act (2001).
The Herald understands that the questioning was focussed on claims lodged for almost €3,000 in mobile phone expenses and their supporting invoices.
Mr O'Keeffe, from Mitchelstown, was released late last night.
A file will now be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Gardai launched an investigation last year after receiving a complaint that the invoices involved were fake.
Data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by a newspaper was also supplied to gardai.
At least three separate invoices are now at the centre of the probe.
All are believed to have been lodged between 2006 and 2009 and were for mobile phones and supporting equipment.
A complaint was first lodged by a member of the public with the Oireachtas office that processes TD expenses in 2010, but was later withdrawn.
No formal probe was ever launched because the details of the original complaint were never brought to the attention of the relevant Dail committee.
Yesterday's arrest shocked members of Mr O'Keeffe's family and his political supporters.
The O'Keeffe family home was searched by NBFI officers after the 10am arrest.
Mr O'Keeffe's son Kieran, a respected north Cork solicitor, immediately travelled to Cobh to attend the garda station where his father was being questioned.
He left the station and later returned at 7.30pm carrying a sheaf of documents.
The former minister was initially detained for questioning for a six-hour period, which was then extended.
A source close to the O'Keeffe family last night said that the veteran former TD will protest his innocence in the matter.
He retired from national politics in January 2011 and did not defend the Dail seat he held for 29 years in the last General Election. He has ruled out any return to national politics.
Mr O'Keeffe's son, Cllr Kevin O'Keeffe, narrowly failed to take his father's seat in Cork East last year, despite running as the only FF candidate in the four-seat constituency.
He served as Food Minister under Bertie Ahern until he resigned in 2001 following a controversy over his business interests.
Mr O'Keeffe was released without charge from garda custody at 10.40pm last night and immediately left Cobh station without comment.
The former minister was flanked by his son Kieran, who said: "He co-operated fully with gardai and assisted them with their inquiries."
The solicitor said they would not be making any further comment on the matter.