herald

Friday 6 December 2019

Man who cheated dole for 15 years had €150k sitting in bank account

Leendert Stolk, who falsely claimed over €200,000
Leendert Stolk, who falsely claimed over €200,000

Gardai are carrying out a massive clampdown on dole and benefits cheats who have conned millions of euro in bogus payments from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

Twenty gardai have been seconded to the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) and 15 alleged social welfare cheats have been arrested nationwide since June.

Senior sources say that one of the most significant arrests happened in the capital's south inner city last week.

Investigations established that a middle-aged North African man had been claiming benefits under a bogus name between 2001 and 2016, while also working at the same time.

Fraudulent

Gardai estimate that he had received around €300,000 from dole and other social welfare benefits as part of his fraudulent claims in that 15-year period and enquiries established that he had around €150,000 in a bank account that has now been frozen.

Officers searched his south inner city apartment last week and the suspect was detained and questioned at Kilmainham Garda Station for a number of hours before being released without charge.

"This was a significant arrest. Investigations showed that he had three different bank accounts but he seems to have been living a very frugal life.

"For him to be able to save €150k from State benefits is certainly an unusual aspect of that case," a senior source told the Herald.

The suspect is one of 15 people arrested in recent months by gardai investigating this type of crime, with the majority of arrests happening in Dublin.

The average fraud in each individual case is estimated at around €80,000, according to the senior source.

In December 2014, 20 gardai were in the Department of Social Protection's Special Investigation Unit.

There are now plans to put an extra six gardai into the unit as the clampdown continues.

"There will be more arrests in the coming months in relation to this type of fraud which typically involves people receiving dual payments or in some cases even triple payments from the State," the senior source said.

In September, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection announced it will review more than 750,000 social welfare claims as part of its new anti-fraud strategy.

Minister Regina Doherty announced it will also target serious fraud through a Special Investigations Unit, publicise its hotline to encourage members of the public to report cases of suspected fraud, and work with other departments and agencies to prevent fraud and non-compliance.

Controversial

A previous anti-fraud campaign - Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All - was promoted by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar when he was social protection minister in 2017. The initiative, which encouraged members of the public to report suspected fraud, was a controversial one with critics arguing that it sensationalised the level of abuse of the system.

In September, Ms Doherty said: "I recognise that the vast majority of our customers are genuine and that there are no issues in relation to their claims."

However, she added that the department would remain alert to new and emerging forms of fraud, and that its approach to tackling it would be flexible.

There have been a number of successful prosecutions in relation to social welfare fraud in recent times.

In July, a Dutch man who falsely claimed over €200,000 in social welfare while living outside Ireland received a four-year prison sentence.

Leendert Stolk (50), of Coppice Road, Worthing, Sussex, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to wrongfully claiming social welfare and submitting false instruments on dates between June 2011 and June 2018. He made claims for jobseeker's allowance, rent allowance, back to work allowance and back to school allowance for seven years after leaving the country.

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