Callely pleads guilty over fake mobile phone expenses

Dublin Circuit Court adjourns sentencing until Monday, seeking precedent guidance

 Former senator and minister of state Ivor Callely leaving the Dublin Circuit Court. Photograph: Eric Luke

Former senator and minister of state Ivor Callely leaving the Dublin Circuit Court. Photograph: Eric Luke

Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 01:00

A judge is to hear submissions from prosecution and defence lawyers on Monday on the appropriate sentencing of former Fianna Fáil minister of state Ivor Callely for making bogus mobile phone expenses claims.

Yesterday he entered guilty pleas to four charges relating to mobile phone expenses, having entered a plea in relation to one last March just before he was due to go on trial.

Dublin Circuit Court heard that at one stage Callely had suggested to gardaí investigating his mobile receipts that his late business partner was responsible after incriminating paperwork was found in his office.

Judge Mary Ellen Ring requested that the prosecution and defence legal teams set out to her the weighting attached in previous sentencing to breach of trust by politicians who had come before the courts.

The case was adjourned until Monday.

She also plans to read a submission Callely made to the Standards in Public Office (Sipo) body covering the same expenses now at the centre of the charges against the separated father of three from Clontarf, Dublin.

The 56-year-old former Dáil deputy, senator and minister of state has pleaded guilty to using false instruments in the claiming of mobile phone related expenses between November 2007 and December 2009.

The court was told by Brendan McGinn SC, prosecuting, that when Callely lost his Dáil seat in 2007 he was appointed to the Seanad. As a new senator he received paperwork from an office in the Oireachtas, known as the One Stop Shop, on the workings of the expenses regime.

Fake letterheads

Callely became aware that since 2002 TDs and Senators had been entitled to make vouched expense claims, every 18 months, up to €750, for the purchase of phones and related items, such as car kits.

They were also entitled to €250 every 18 months for insurance and upkeep of phones but there was no requirement to vouch, or lodge receipts, for that portion of the claim.

Callely asked if he could claim retrospectively and when told he could, he did so. He submitted claims back-dated to when mobile phone allowances began. After making these claims he continued to lodge claims at 18-month intervals to December 2009.

The four claims in the current case came to €4,207.45.

In 2010, a journalist lodged a Freedom of Information request and anomalies in Callely’s claims were exposed.

He had used receipts purporting to arise from purchases from two companies in Fairview, north Dublin: Business Communications Ltd and Intec Ireland (a third company was Alstat Ltd).

When Callely was informed by the One Stop Shop that his expenses were the subject of an FOI request, he asked to see his own file. He formally withdrew the now contentious claims and repaid most of the money.

However, gardaí began investigating. Det Sgt Adrian Kelly of the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation told the court yesterday that when Kevin Baxter of Business Communications Ltd was spoken to, he confirmed the invoices on paperwork bearing his letterhead were false.

He also said he had leased space in his office to Intec Ireland but that they had never sold phones.

Both companies had ceased trading before the dates on the invoices. The currency in some of the claims was the punt despite the euro having been introduced and the phone and fax numbers were historical, dating back to the period when such Dublin numbers had six digits rather than seven. Some of the mobile phone models Callely claimed to have bought do not exist.

Back-dated expenses

His property was searched and he was arrested in January 2012. He insisted to gardaí he had made a statement to Sipo on the matter. He said he had no knowledge of blank paper with mastheads of some of the companies he had used to claim the expenses, suggesting his late business partner might have been responsible.

Michael O’Higgins SC, for Callely, said his client had spent money on mobile phones during the period of the expenses, and when he discovered he was entitled to the €1,000 every 18 months he took a shortcut when claiming back-dated expenses rather than taking the time to look for his genuine receipts from the time.

Mr O’Higgins said the case was not at the top end of the scale and suggested Callely should be assessed for suitability for community service.

However, Judge Mary Ellen Ring suggested the issue was one of a member of the legislature breaching the trust placed in him and requested guidance in the legal precedent.