Northern Ireland’s investigations of EU fraud plagued by failings

Anti-fraud unit at Department of Agriculture and Rural Development needs ‘shake-up’

By Fiona O’Cleirigh | 12 November 2012

Fraud of European Union agricultural subsidies is being investigated in Northern Ireland by an anti-fraud unit plagued by basic failings, according to a confidential report.

A review into the anti-fraud unit commissioned by Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) from Deloitte, the auditing and consultancy firm, found a lack of basic procedures for carrying out investigations.

Exaro has obtained a copy of the confidential report that resulted from the review into the Central Investigation Service (CIS), which is charged with tackling fraud of EU agricultural subsidies distributed in Northern Ireland, as well as conducting cases for other departments in the province.

“In reviewing the more recent reports, we were left confused by the statistics quoted” – Confidential report commissioned by Northern Ireland government

The report said: “Our review highlighted that there are no formal procedures regarding the use of notebooks and the controls around their issue and storage.

“It is generally-accepted good investigation practice for note books to be used to record both daily work-related activity and information that may be required as evidence in legal proceedings, and we would therefore expect such procedures to be in place in a body such as the CIS.”

The review reported similar concerns about ‘action sheets’, which are used to plot the course of investigations: “There appears to be some confusion within the CIS as to the purpose of these.”

“While the investigators consider these to be a record of activity that is integral to the investigation, the head of the CIS considers these to be a time-management and supervisory tool.”

The report recommended that a “formal and comprehensive set of procedures be developed covering all aspects of the investigation process, such as: case receipt and assessment; case allocation; case investigation; record keeping and information management; compliance with legislation, such as Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA); case closure and reporting.”

RIPA sets out the powers of public bodies to carry out surveillance, such as the interception of communications.

The report continued: “We acknowledge that some procedural documentation (eg prosecutions and case-closure policies) does exist, and we consider that this should be incorporated into a comprehensive set of investigation procedures to provide clarity and direction to all members of the team as to the operational requirement to be followed when conducting day-to-day investigatory work.”

In a section headed, “Excessive monitoring of one member of staff and bullying of others by the head of the CIS,” the report said: “While such issues were alluded to by four of the five investigators interviewed, the evidence provided by them to support this allegation, although consistent, was anecdotal in nature.

“Therefore, while these allegations have been noted, there was no formal evidence available that would enable us to conclude on this issue. However, this is a serious allegation that DARD senior management may wish to reflect on.”

The report also questioned how the investigations unit produced statistics for DARD. “There needs to be clear statistical reporting produced by the CIS to capture the activities of the team and to inform DARD senior management and other interested parties accordingly. This should show the number of cases referred, the number of cases then investigated, and the outcome and financial value of these.”

The review examined fraud figures supplied by the CIS over the previous seven years. While it was unable to assess the accuracy of the figures, it noted that in the more recent reports, “the fraud statistics are reported in a rather disjointed way, such that meaningful analysis would require significant cross-referencing across various sections of each report.”

“Furthermore, in reviewing the more recent reports, we were left confused by the statistics quoted.”

DARD said in a statement: “There were, as a result of this review, a number of changes to internal policies and procedures and these have now been implemented in full.”

“The department’s internal audit branch has recently completed a further review of the Central Investigation Service. This subsequent audit recommended a small number of process-related actions, which are in the process of being implemented. The department is content that all appropriate actions have been taken.”

Deloitte’s review of case files also found inadequate investigation of alleged fraud by one farmer who, CIS investigators claimed, used his political connections to have the case dropped.

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