THE leader of Torfaen council described a senior council officer accused of false accounting as “shining” when giving evidence yesterday.
Cllr Bob Wellington told Cardiff Crown Court Farooq Dastgir was a “shining officer” in the authority and ‘excellent’ at his job.
He added that the former chief executive used to call Dastgir ‘the genius’ and added he personally trusted Dastgir and had never doubted his integrity.
The court also heard from Dastgir, who said laptops and IT equipment worth £5 million was left in storage after Newport council backed out of an IT project.
Dastgir, 53, of Coed Camlas, New Inn, is charged with one count of false accounting. He is alleged to have organised for a false invoice for £10,000 to be created for cabling work that had not been and was never intended to be done.
The prosecution says IT contractor Camelot, run by co-defendant Gary Inchliffe, 52, of Beechcroft, Trelewis, was to use the money to pay for a supplement in the South Wales Argus advertising digital developments in Torfaen.
But it had been decided costs should be met through sponsorship, not taxpayers’ money.
Earlier in the trial the court heard the money was never paid, after a fellow employee raised the alarm.
Yesterday, Dastgir said the £10,000 supplement in the Argus was the responsibility of head of communications, Neil Jones, not him.
Dastgir said he was happy with Mr Jones taking responsibility as he was busy, and it was ‘a communications task, not an IT task’.
However, he added, he maintained responsibility for drumming up sponsors as he already had established relationships with large international companies.
“All the key people already knew me,” he said. “I was the main contact.”
Dastgir told the court that he was seen as someone who was ‘opening doors in Wales’ and his name was respected by these companies.
One witness said Dastgir “cared about his reputation more than he cared about money.”
Dastgir told the court: “But my name is nothing now.”
He told the court he asked Gary Inchliffe to be the lead sponsor for the supplement, but he planned for other companies to also act as sponsors alongside Inchliffe, paying for the supplement collaboratively.
When asked why he did not look properly into the invoice from Camelot, he told the court he expected his “right hand man” to alert him to any problems, and having heard nothing “assumed everything was under control”.
Susan Ferrier, prosecuting, said: “Your right hand person did not come to you because he knew that invoice was dishonest, a sham. This was something that needed to be reported.”
Dastgir also told the court that although the laptops in storage were said to be worth £3 million, they were actually worth £5 million.
He said: “I have never been given the opportunity to speak about it. There were servers meant for Newport schools.”
He explained the council was given the money for three local authorities to work together, but Newport backed out decided actually they did not want to come on board’.
He added that the equipment had already been bought because there was only two weeks to spend the money.
“Each of the councils had approved it though. So obviously there was a hoo-ha because it was done so quickly,” he said.