Police investigated over suspected fraud after £5.4m in fines vanishes into thin air
Police officers could be involved in a potential multi-million pound fraud racket involving the collection of cash warrants, a damning report has said.
It highlighted fears that fraud among police officers could be contributing to almost £20m of outstanding fines in Northern Ireland.
The report compiled by the NI Audit Office into the collection of fines said it could not rule out some cash paid towards fines may have been pocketed by police officers after more than £5m was deemed irrecoverable.
Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said he was aware of an internal PSNI investigation into suspected fraudulent activities within the organisation.
"My staff have not been able to obtain sufficient assurance that material fraud or error has not occurred," said Mr Donnelly.
The report said fines totalling £19.3m are outstanding on the books of the
Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service.
Once an individual has defaulted on a fine, a warrant can be issued for recovery.
Almost half the £19.3m relates to outstanding warrants. Warrants authorise police officers to recover cash payments from defaulters. Of the £8.4m of total outstanding warrants – involving 26,571 cases – a total of £5.4m has been deemed as not recoverable.
This amount is the source of concern about potential fraud.
Mr Donnelly explained that he had "qualified" the accounts for 2011-12 as he had been unable to establish that fraud had not occurred in £1.3m written off relating to outstanding warrants in that 12-month period.
He added: "If I had audited this balance in previous years, I would also have been unable to obtain sufficient evidence to substantiate that material fraud had not occurred in the cumulative balance to date of £5.4m."
Mr Donnelly noted the current system allowed outstanding warrants to be collected in cash only.
"There is an inherent risk in any cash collection system, which is difficult to eliminate," he said.
"My concern is that warrants could be collected but the cash and details of the fines not recorded. I have been notified of a suspected fraud in this area and I have been advised that an investigation is ongoing.
"I would recommend that the current control environment is reviewed in light of the risk of potential fraud," he said.
The PSNI said it had been working in partnership with the NI Court and Tribunal Service and said it would welcome a civilian fine enforcement service.
"PSNI has had an opportunity to feed back comment in relation to the Audit Office Report. We will consider the report in detail and ensure an appropriate and effective response," a spokesman said.
"Any allegations that the PSNI are aware of in relation to fraud are extremely rare and are investigated robustly. Where any wrongdoing is found, appropriate disciplinary/legal action is taken."