More than 300 elite Scotland Yard detectives are suspected of defrauding the taxpayer of millions of pounds by abusing their corporate credit cards, the Observer can disclose.
Auditors who have examined the American Express accounts of 3,500 officers involved in countering terrorism and organised crime have reported almost one in 11 detectives to the Metropolitan Police’s internal investigators.
A senior officer appears to have spent £40,000 on his Amex card in one year, without authorisation. Items bought by others without permission include suits, women’s clothing and fishing rods.
The scale of the suspected fraud, disclosed in an internal Metropolitan Police Authority report, will send shock waves through the force. Until now, the investigation into expenses fraud was thought to have focused on fewer than 40 officers. It comes days after Sir Paul Stephenson, the Met Commissioner, faced the potentially damaging disclosure that six officers face investigation over claims that a drug suspect’s head was forced into a lavatory that was flushed repeatedly.
Authority members expressed their dismay last night. Jenny Jones, a Green Party member, said: “Taxpayers have every right to be angry about this. Well done to the current auditing team for uncovering this, but what on earth was happening before? Why was there no accountability?
“It beggars belief that our police, who are supposed to be solving crime, are suspected of fraud on a grand scale.”
Auditors at the Metropolitan Police Authority have spent two years examining receipts from the accounts of more than 3,500 officers. The Amex cards were issued in 2006 to detectives from specialist operations, which includes counter-terrorism and those involved in diplomatic and royalty protection.
The scheme was then extended to the specialist crime directorate, which counters organised crime, as well as conducting sensitive inquiries such as the cash-for-honours investigation.
The cards were for travel and subsistence, so that officers did not have to spend their own money while on long-running investigations away from their Scotland Yard base.
Sources have told the Observer that some detectives had fallen into the habit of withdrawing hundreds of pounds at a time from cashpoints. Other officers appear to have filled in blank receipts from restaurants to account for cash payments.
One source said: “Some people bought three-piece suits while in the far east and claimed that they needed them for work. But it would not have taken much nous to realise that it was 45C in the shade, and not the weather for a waistcoat.”
The number of suspected fraudsters will be presented to the Met at a meeting tomorrow.
A report by Peter Tickner, the head of internal audit at the Metropolitan Police Authority, states that it has finished examining the Amex accounts of all officers. “In excess of 300 police officers have been referred to the Directorate of Professional Standards [DPS] by my staff and 46 of these have become formal investigations overseen by the Independent Police Complaints Commission,” he wrote.
Only detectives suspected of overcharging by more than £1,000 have been referred to the DPS. Its investigators are believed to be examining hundreds of files.
The use of Amex cards was halted in December 2007. A number of officers have already been arrested in connection with the investigation.
Last month, three officers were arrested for allegedly making “inflated” expenses claims while investigating the 7 July bombings.
They were suspected of misusing corporate credit cards while they were based in Leeds examining the backgrounds of the suicide bombers.
Rajeev Syal, investigations editor
Sunday 14 June 2009
Source: The Observer