Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland civil servant arrested over alleged theft of £120k from Department of Finance

The incident was reported to police over the summer, but the case has still not been resolved (stock photo)
The incident was reported to police over the summer, but the case has still not been resolved (stock photo)
Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

A civil servant has been suspended from work after being arrested as part of a police investigation into the alleged theft of around £120,000 from the Department of Finance.

A computer flaw is believed to have allowed the six-figure sum to be redirected to a different bank account from the one originally approved by management within Land & Property Services.

It is understood that the payments were diverted over a short period of time before departmental officials noticed that funds were being taken in what is now suspected to be an inside job.

The incident was reported to police over the summer, but the case has still not been resolved.

A PSNI spokesperson said: "Detectives at Musgrave received a report in July of suspected fraudulent activity by an employee at a government department.

"A male was subsequently arrested on suspicion of fraud by abuse of position and interviewed. He has since been released on police bail as enquiries continue."

A Department of Finance spokesperson confirmed that a member of staff has been suspended without pay in relation to the missing money.

However, they would not verify the exact amount, which is believed to be in the region of £120,000.

"Land & Property Services has already taken action and put in place controls to mitigate against any recurrence," they added.

"The Northern Ireland Audit Office has been advised and the department's head of internal audit is carrying out a thorough fraud risk assessment."

However, the spokesperson refused to confirm if payment processes outside of the department have also been reviewed. "As a police investigation is currently under way it would be inappropriate to comment further," they said.

The Belfast Telegraph had queried the potential for software flaws to be exploited in all government departments.

We asked:

- What action has been taken or will be taken to ensure that software used in all branches within the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) is not flawed?

- When was the software which made this theft possible first installed?

- Can the department rule out the possibility of similar thefts throughout the wider civil service?

TUV leader Jim Allister said the department must be more open about the theft, which he said "impacts public confidence."

"They don't have to go into specific details about this incident but they must provide assurances that this is not an ongoing problem in other branches and indeed departments," he said.

"They must be more transparent about the system which is obviously capable of being abused.

"There are serious questions which need to be answered to see if this is a problem which may have occurred across the Civil Service.

"Has there been a review into more widespread abuse and if so what has it shown?"

Mr Allister called for all departments to be audited and be subject to computer checks.

"There must be a sufficiency of expertise across IT experts to check for vulnerability," he added. "But someone needs to explain how a system that was so vulnerable was ever rolled out in the first place.

"It's hard to believe that it only affected one computer system which is only used in one branch within a single department."

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