Five years for ex-Ukip fraudster
A former Ukip MEP who cheated almost £500,000 in European Parliament expenses has been jailed for five years.
Ashley Mote, 79, submitted bogus claims for his parliamentary allowance, which was supposed to be for work that organisations had carried out on his behalf.
He used the money to fund his court battles in the UK after he was prosecuted for a previous benefits fraud.
The politician dishonestly obtained approximately 355,000 euro and £184,000 of allowances to which he was not entitled.
Mote, of Binsted, Hampshire, was sentenced to a total of five years imprisonment at Southwark Crown Court today.
Mr Justice Stuart Smith said Mote had "lied, protested, lied and lied again" during his trial.
"Your greed and dishonesty were matched only by your hypocrisy because while this was going on you carried out a high profile campaign condemning corruption and the improper use of public money in the very institution from which you were leeching it."
He continued: "You knew perfectly well what the rules were for the claiming of expenses and you also knew perfectly well that what you were doing had nothing to do with funding whistleblowers and everything to do with funding your bridging loan, your mortgage, your legal expenses that were unrelated to your role as an MEP.
"You abused your position of trust as an elected representative and you abused the trust that the European Parliament placed in you, consistently making false statements in the knowledge that the institutions trusted their MEPs to be reliable and honest.
"Along the way you deceived people who shared your declared political ideals and even considered you to be something of a political hero.
"You are, as was said by the trial judge when you were convicted of substantial benefits fraud in 2007, a thoroughly dishonest man.
"The consistency of your dishonesty is breathtaking."
Mr Justice Smith said: "As you came to towards the end of your time as an MEP you decided to milk what you saw as your cash cow to the limit."
Mote was convicted at trial of four counts of obtaining a money transfer by deception, three of false accounting, two of fraud, and one each of acquiring criminal property, concealing criminal property and theft. The offences took place between November 2004 and July 2010.
Mote was allowed to sit in the back of court because of hearing problems.
Mr Justice Smith said: "When all is said and done, what stands out is the consistency of your dishonesty over nearly five years, the financial scale of your fraud, the rank abuse of the trust that was placed in you by your constituents and the European Parliament, and the financial and reputational damage you have done to the democratic institutions you said you were trying to clean up."
He told Mote that the sentence was reduced to five years because of his age.
"If you were a young man, I would make a modest reduction to six years eight months on the grounds of totality," the judge said.
"But you are not a young man, and I consider that such a sentence would be a crushing blow which, even if justifiable, should be avoided if possible.
"For that reason, and that reason only, I have come to the conclusion that I can and should make a further reduction because of your age."
Around £100,000 of the bogus expenses were used to fund Mote's legal fees when he was prosecuted for benefits fraud.
"In order to fund just under £100,000 in unrelated legal expenses you made a series of false statements to the effect that the legal services provided by your solicitors were for legal and constitutional advice in relation to your activities as an MEP, which they were not." Mr Justice Smith said.
He added: "Your offences had a considerable impact on the victim whether your true victim is regarded as the European Parliament or as the tax payers who funded your membership of that Parliament and the expenses you dishonestly drew.
"On one point you were absolutely correct.
"Dishonesty on the part of those involved in the European Parliament is disgraceful and damaging to the institution and its democratic credibility.
"The destruction of public confidence in democratic institutions by expenses scandals both here and in Europe cannot be valued in monetary terms but it is real and the impact will not dissipate rapidly."
In response to mitigation from Tim Moloney QC that Mote had done valuable work as a politician Mr Justice Smith said: "It's a bit double-edged, for a person who goes trumpeting loud that he's going to clear up corruption in the European Parliament while fleecing it as hard as he could."
He added: "I have wondered long and hard what he (Mote) thought he was doing and did not get any answers out of the trial because of the nature of the defence."
Mr Moloney also told the court that Mote has health problems, including high blood pressure, and that his wife will be forced to sell the family home to pay his legal costs.
Mote was elected as a Ukip MEP for South East England in 2004, but shortly before he took up his seat he was thrown out of Nigel Farage's party because he was being prosecuted by the Department for Work and Pensions for benefit fraud.
He sat as an independent MEP until 2009, when he decided not to stand for re-election.
Between 2004, when he was elected MEP, and 2009 he claimed a total of £750,000 in parliamentary assistance allowance - taking into account his legitimate claims and fraudulent activity.
In 2007 Mote was convicted of 20 charges relating to a £60,000 benefits fraud.
A Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group (EFDD) spokesman said: "Ashley Mote was elected on a Ukip list but was expelled from party before he took his MEP seat and sat with the non-attached in the European Parliament.
"He was an independent. Many people will rightly think he has received a just reward for his actions."
Zoe Martin, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "Ashley Mote purported to expose fraud and promote accountability within the European Parliament.
"However, these values were not applied to his own blatantly dishonest actions as an MEP.
"Over a period of five years, Mr Mote misused his allowances as a member of the European Parliament to fund his personal expenses.
"This included paying off part of a bridging loan and the mortgage on his home.
"He also used the European Parliament funds to pay his legal bills in connection with his previous fraud trial and a related civil action."