Belfast Telegraph

Still no decision on NI Events Company charges two years after official report alleged ‘fraud on a grand scale’

By Claire O'Boyle

A decision on whether to bring criminal charges over the collapse of a high-profile quango has still not been taken - nearly two years after a damning Stormont report.

The Northern Ireland Events Company - which subsidised showpiece gigs at Stormont by artists such as Pavarotti and Elton John - folded in 2007 with debts of over £1.5m.

In a scathing report in February 2016, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) concluded it was likely "fraud on a grand scale" took place.

However, the PSNI did not present its full file on the case to the Public Prosecution Service until last February, nine years after the NIEC folded. And almost a year later, that file is still with the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

It is understood two people - a man and a woman both aged 53 - are named in the file in relation to alleged fraud offences.

A spokesperson said it was a "complex case" and a decision was expected in the "near future".

However, SDLP MLA John Dallat, who served on Stormont's Public Accounts Committee, criticised the length of time it has taken to bring the matter to a conclusion.

He said: "It's an absolute scandal that this thing has dragged on for so long.

"The NIEC was a classic example of what happens when public money is not properly protected, and this investigation has taken far too long.

"What is clear is that the people involved in these investigations have either not had the expertise, the willingness or the resources to work through it properly. Whatever the reason, it should have been done long ago.

"The Audit Office managed it. However difficult it was to get the information they needed, they persevered through a difficult job. I don't understand why the police couldn't finish up in that same time."

Mr Dallat said that pressure was building for the PPS to make a decision about whether or not to prosecute the two people who are named in the police file.

"The worst bit of the whole NIEC affair was that this money was intended for such positive things," he added.

"It was intended to be used to paint Northern Ireland in a positive light across the world, to attract people, performers, exciting events, to us.

"Instead it was totally misused, it was abused and no one has been held responsible for that.

"The PPS may have had the files for just a year or so, but the pressure is on them now to get moving, the urgency to get it out in the open and to make a decision on the prosecution is only increasing.

"There's no excuse and it's not in the public interest to drag it out a minute longer."

A spokesperson for the PPS confirmed it had received the full file from the PSNI last February.

"The Public Prosecution Service received a file from the PSNI in relation to a man and a woman - now both aged 53 - who were reported for a fraud offence.

"Our fraud section received an initial file from police in June 2016, followed by the full file in February 2017.

"This is a complex case which has now reached the final stages of careful consideration and we expect a decision to issue in the near future."

The PSNI declined to comment when contacted.

A spokesperson said: "As this matter is currently under review by the PPS it would be inappropriate to comment."

The controversy-hit quango was set up in 1997 and helped bring huge stars to Northern Ireland.

But it collapsed a decade later, after receiving £18m in public money.

Stormont investigators found of the £1.5m deficit, £1.3m was run up promoting events between 2005 and 2007.

Of that, £1.1m went on promoting five Motocross and Supermoto motorbike events.

At the time PAC chair Michaela Boyle said: "This is one of the biggest scandals that has arisen in the history of the committee under devolution."

Belfast Telegraph

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