6:31pm Wednesday 30th April 2014
A GWENT council official standing trial on two charges of false accounting involving more than £28,000, has been accused at Cardiff Crown Court of playing "fast and loose" with taxpayers' money.
Farooq Dastgir allegedly tried to use £10,000 of Torfaen council money to pay for a South Wales Argus supplement highlighting digital developments in the county borough, when it had been decided it should be funded through private sponsorship.
He is also alleged to have pushed through a payment of £18,200 to make up a deficit on a budget for laptops and mobile phones for Monmouthshire county councillors, using money ringfenced for regeneration projects in Torfaen.
Dastgir, 53, of Coed Camlas, New Inn, also faces a charge of misconduct in a public office.
Fifty-two year-old Gary Inchliffe, of Beechcroft, Trelewis, is also charged with false accounting over the newspaper supplement.
Both have pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
Opening the prosecution case, counsel Susan Ferrier told the court Dastgir was director of technology-led transformation at Torfaen council, and director of IT with Monmouthshire council, and his standing and level of knowledge meant his word was "never doubted."
These organisations, along with Gwent Police, had pooled their technological resources through what became known as the Shared Resource Service (SRS), based in Blaenavon, which also had a business arm not involving the police.
Following its official launch In February 2011, discussions began between Torfaen council and the South Wales Argus for a supplement highlighting the project's technological innovations.
It was decided that costs should not be met by the council, but through investment from companies involved in the project, and which would be featured in the supplement.
Dastgir was asked to arrange this and in an e-mail told Torfaen council's chief executive Alison Ward early in March 2011 that funding was in place.
Ms Ferrier however, told the court: "There is no evidence funds were in place at all and it does not appear any attempts had been made to put funds in place."
In late spring, Dastgir e-mailed Mrs Ward again, telling her he would get a sponsorship 'name' for £10,000. That 'name' was Camelot, an IT services company of which Inchliffe was managing director, and which provided such services to Torfaen council.
Ms Ferrier said the prosecution will seek to prove that Dastgir made an agreement with Inchliffe whereby the latter would receive £10,000 of Torfaen council's money to pay for the supplement.
"This would be covered up by the creation of a fraudulent invoice for £10,000 for work supposedly carried out for Torfaen by Camelot. That work was not carried out."
The ruse, said Ms Ferrier, involved a fictitious e-mail chain concerning cabling work allegedly carried out at the Blaenavon SRS facility.
But the site's assistant director, acting on his own concerns, carried out an investigation which revealed the work had not been done.
"Clearly, Farooq Dastgir was prepared to play fast and loose with taxpayers' money, and this was not the only time the defendant had behaved dishonestly," said Ms Ferrier.
The second charge of false accounting against Dastgir arises from the provision of laptops and mobile phones to Monmouthshire councillors.
This was to have been funded through the members' services budget, but when the project was mooted, in autumn 2010, there was only £5,115 left, well short of the overall cost.
Nevertheless, the items were ordered, and it is alleged Dastgir moved to cover the shortfall by arranging for payment from ringfenced Heads of the Valleys regeneration funding awarded to Torfaen, by the Welsh Government.
Ms Ferrier said this involved "the creation of a fictitious situation" including a false invoice.
"(Dastgir) is saying people have been loaned from Monmouthshire council on a consultancy basis to Torfaen, working for the Heads of the Valleys programme," she said.
"There is no suggestion that services were provided. It was nothing more than a scam."
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