Double `sting' costs Foreign Office pounds 442,000

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The Foreign Office has lost pounds 442,000 as a result of a double `sting' at the British embassy in Amman. Anthony Bevins, Political Editor, reports on two accountants and a modern Aladdin's Cave.

Last year, MPs were told by Sir John Bourn, the Comptroller and Auditor General, that a locally engaged accountant in the British Embassy in Jordan had "forged life certificates and encashed payable orders for over 20 years in respect of pensioners who had previously died."

The accountant, Zureik, for whom no other name is provided, is believed to have got away with pounds 330,000, and the National Audit Office made a number of recommendations to tighten up procedures in Amman, described as "a particularly vulnerable post".

Because of the Zureik "sting", when a new senior management officer arrived in Amman last June, he was very much on his toes, and he noticed that the occupants of some of the embassy's residential properties "appeared to be consuming significantly more fuel than others".

On being asked to investigate, his assistant "found that a number of oil deliveries were for identical amounts", and she discovered "that duplicate payments had been made as a result of the presentation of different copies of the same invoices."

The man who replaced Mr Zureik was Mr Shehadeh, for whom no other name is provided, and it appears that between 1993 and last June he was in the habit of submitting two copies of the same diesel fuel delivery invoice for signed authorisation by the embassy's senior management officer.

The top, pink copy, was quite properly used to support cheque payment to the supplier - but, then, Mr Shehadeh would use the duplicate, green delivery note to support a cash payment into an account which he controlled.

"To forestall detection," Sir John explained, "the two payments were so arranged that they appeared on the embassy's accounts in different periods."

Mr Shehadeh also submitted falsified invoices for utility supplies, like electricity, as well as stationery and postage, using a variety of techniques to get the senior management officer's authorisation for payment.

Because records have been destroyed for the seven years to 1993, when Mr Shehadeh was working as an accountant in the embassy, the precise loss is not known.

Mr Shehadeh, who denies all the accusations made against him - yesterday's report attracts parliamentary privilege for purposes of defamation - is currently being held on remand pending criminal and civil trials.

As for the senior management officer who signed the authorisations, he left Amman in April and has had unspecified "disciplinary action taken against him". He is not named, and his fate is not known.