Suspended term of 18 months for €45,000 welfare scam

Retired economist pocketed Irish pension payments while living in native Bulgaria

The court heard evidence that gardaí had checked Aer Lingus flight manifests and found that Liliana Etropolska had flown into Ireland 20 times over the following four-and -a half years when she continued to collect Irish pension payments of €45,000.

The court heard evidence that gardaí had checked Aer Lingus flight manifests and found that Liliana Etropolska had flown into Ireland 20 times over the following four-and -a half years when she continued to collect Irish pension payments of €45,000.

 

A retired economist who collected €45,000 in Irish state pension payments for almost five years while living in Bulgaria has been given an 18-month suspended jail sentence for social welfare fraud after she repaid the money.

Liliana Etropolska (70) pleaded guilty to 21 offences including three counts of making false statements to social welfare and 18 charges of theft of various sums of money between September 2011 and February 2016 when she appeared at Cork Circuit Criminal Court on Monday.

Det Garda Kevin Heffernan said that Etropolska, a Bulgarian citizen, had come to Ireland in January 2011 to stay with her son who was married and living at Kiltegan Crescent, Rochestown in Cork, and she applied for and obtained an Irish Personal Public Service Number number.

She returned to Bulgaria but came back to Ireland in September 2011 just before she turned 66 and applied for a non-contributory State pension. She indicated that she was permanently resident in Ireland and produced supporting documentation even though she soon returned to Bulgaria again.

Det Garda Heffernan said that gardaí had checked Aer Lingus flight manifests and found that Etropolska had flown into Ireland 20 times over the following 4½ years when she continued to collect Irish pension payments totalling €45,000.

On June 9th, 2014, the Department of Social Protection sent her a form to complete at the address at Kiltegan Crescent in Rochestown. Failure to complete the form would have led to the termination of her pension but she flew in on June 16th and returned the completed form by the June 20th deadline.

Gardaí also obtained access to an AIB Bank account belonging to Etropolska and established that money was being paid into the account at the rate of €200 a week despite the fact that she was not living at the Rochestown address but was back in Bulgaria.

Gardaí alerted

The fraud came to light in January 2016 when Insp Fergus McCarthy of the Department of Social Protection called to the house in Rochestown to be told by Etropolska’s daughter-in-law that she knew Etropolska but she wasn’t living there and Insp McCarthy in turn alerted gardaí.

Det Garda Heffernan said that gardaí arrested Etropolska when she flew into Cork Airport on March 18th, 2016. And they also carried out a search of the house in Rochestown but found no evidence of her living there. When questioned she made a full admission.

She was later charged and remanded on bail, living with her daughter-in-law in Rochestown after surrendering her passport as part of her bail conditions while she had this morning come to court with a cheque for €45,000 in recompense for the money she had stolen.

Defence barrister, Sinéad Behan said her client had admitted the fraud to gardaí. She had used the money to pay her son’s share of the mortgage on the house but had found it stressful living in the house with her daughter in -law after her son’s marriage broke up.

Judge Sean O’Donnabhain said that he had very little sympathy for Etropolska as the fraud was conscious, deliberate and long lasting and, were it not for the fact that she had come to court with €45,000 to repay the stolen money, she would be facing imprisonment.

He noted her guilty plea and the fact that she co-operated with investigating gardaí as he sentenced her to 18 months in jail but suspended it on condition that she leave the country within seven days and not return to Ireland for a period of five years.