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Ex-Irish senator arrested over suspicious expenses

Associated Press

DUBLIN (AP) – A former Irish senator who became a lightning rod for voter anger against politicians’ outrageous expense claims was arrested Wednesday over his submission of allegedly forged receipts from a long-dead company.

Detectives said Ivor Callely, 53, would be questioned on suspicion of using fake invoices to rip off taxpayers, a crime with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Despite being repeatedly pressed by journalists, Callely has never offered a credible explanation for why he claimed euro2,907 ($3,750) in expenses for bills supposedly issued by a small mobile-phone provider for the supply of four phones and hands-free car equipment from 2002 to 2005. The supposed supplier ceased business in 1994.

Parliamentary accountants cleared the payment in 2007. An Irish newspaper’s freedom of information request exposed the suspicious claim in 2010. Callely said he then refunded the money and didn’t know how the mistake happened.

Around the same time, another newspaper’s FOI request discovered that Callely had claimed more than euro81,000 ($105,000) in expenses by saying he was commuting almost daily from his family’s holiday home in rural County Cork, 370 kilometers (230 miles) from Dublin. He even claimed euro140 per day in overnight-travel benefits each time he stayed in his Dublin home.

The prime minister demanded an explanation, commentators branded his claim to be a Cork resident implausible, given he represented a Dublin district, and his fellow senators suspended him from office for 20 days without pay.

But Callely successfully sued the senate in Dublin’s High Court and won euro17,000 ($22,000) in damages for lost wages. The January 2011 judgment deemed the senate’s suspension procedures unfair and its weak expense rules open to the two-home loophole that Callely exploited.

Callely served 18 years as a lawmaker in Ireland’s key lower house of parliament, Dail Eireann. When he failed to win re-election in 2007, the government appointed him to the broadly irrelevant upper house, called the Seanad.

In 2005 Callely was forced to resign as the government’s minister for traffic, road haulage and aviation after Irish state broadcasters RTE reported that a construction company competing for government contracts had painted his home _ in Dublin, not Cork _ for free.

Callely is hardly the biggest offender in Ireland’s pantheon of benefit-taking politicians.

A series of state-ordered investigations since 1996 has discovered that one former prime minister, Charles Haughey, collected more than euro11 million in secret cash payments from business friends while in office; a former justice minister, Ray Burke, received a free house from a developer and many other corrupt payments that he hid in offshore accounts; and former premier Bertie Ahern deposited his own array of ill-documented cash payments from business friends in personal safes rather than banks.

Only Burke was jailed, briefly, for tax evasion.

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Online:

Ivor Callely’s political site,
http://www.ivorcallely.ie/

(This version CORRECTS Corrects the spelling of “lightning” in the first paragraph.)

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