A former British MEP who masterminded a £36,000 expenses fiddle was facing jail today after he confessed during his trial.
Tom Wise, 61, who first represented Ukip before turning independent, spent a year channelling taxpayers' cash into a bank account he secretly controlled.
He pretended the £3,000 "secretarial assistance allowance" he received every month was for his 62-year-old researcher Lindsay Jenkins.
After paying her just £500, he spent the rest "in support of his own interests", London's Southwark Crown Court was told.
Mark Fenhalls, prosecuting, said: "He used the funds, for example, to buy a car, to purchase fine wines and pay off some of his credit card debts."
The barrister said that when the fraud was eventually exposed by a national newspaper four years ago, the MEP promptly "took steps to cancel the claim and repay the money".
"He did so because he had been caught and was trying to minimise the trouble he was in," said counsel. "Perhaps he hoped by swift repayment he could somehow head off further inquiry."
Had it not been discovered, the scam could have lasted five years and netted £180,000.
Wise, of Ship Road, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, who was kicked out of Ukip over the scandal, denied false accounting between October 14 and November 16 2004.
But on the third day of his three-week trial and just before Ukip leader Nigel Farrage was to give evidence against him, Wise began a protracted round of discussions with his legal team.
After several hours and an overnight adjournment to finalise details, the jury trying the case was discharged and the disgraced politician then admitted he was guilty after all.
Jenkins, of Queens Club Gardens, Barons Court, west London, had also been on trial but was then cleared.
She had denied both the false accounting charge and an allegation of using criminal property between November 14 2004 and November 1 the following year.
The court heard she allegedly used "just shy" of £5,000 of the stolen money to publish a political work she had written.
Mr Fenhalls explained that in pleading guilty, Mr Wise "fully accepted responsibility for his actions and, by virtue of his plea and what he says, he has effectively exonerated Mrs Jenkins."
The barrister said the former MEP also accepted documents he got Mrs Jenkins to sign to pull off the fraud were "misleading and were in all probability blank when he asked her to sign them".
"His acceptance of responsibility is fully consistent with the prosecution's opening and makes his basis of plea acceptable."
He told the court Jenkins's case had always been that the documents were blank, that she had "trusted him", and that the £500 Wise paid her each month was for work actually done.
"We are able to say ... there is no realistic prospect of conviction, nor, in fact, were it necessary, a public interest in continuing. In those circumstances we do not invite a trial against Mrs Jenkins and invite verdicts of not guilty against her."
Judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC agreed, and formally ordered her acquittal on both counts, adding that her defence costs should be paid out of public funds.
After quashing an outstanding money-laundering allegation against Wise, he told the former MEP he would be sentenced next Wednesday.
He said he could remain on bail in the meantime, but warned: "It must, however, be fully understood that in terms of the ultimate sentence, nothing must be read into that."
The judge then added: "I see Mr Wise nodding because he knows too well what the situation is."Reuse content