Disgraced official's expenses 'could be fraud': Executive accused of exploiting position

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The Independent Online
THREE expenses payments for overseas visits made to Professor John Catford, the disgraced former chief executive of Health Promotion Wales, could have been fraudulent, a district auditor's report, published yesterday, has concluded.

The payments, which amounted to pounds 1,212, were referred to the South Wales fraud squad for investigation.

However, the Crown Prosecution Service decided last month not to bring criminal proceedings - a decision which brought protests yesterday from Rhodri Morgan, Labour MP for Cardiff West and Labour's Welsh health spokesman.

In the light of the district auditor's findings, a jury should have been allowed to make the judgment, Mr Morgan said.

'If this had been a social security claimant, this case would have gone straight to court,' he claimed. 'This looks very much like double standards and the Establishment looking after its own.'

Professor Catford, 47, an internationally-renowned health promotion specialist, resigned earlier this year from his pounds 80,000 post as chief executive of the Welsh health quango, amid questions about his expenses and after admitting a love affair with an international colleague during a visit to Brazil.

The district auditor examined foreign travel undertaken by all the authority's staff, including 33 visits in four years made by Professor Catford.

He found 'a number of overseas trips where the exact reason for attendance has not been established; and one instance, in the case of the chief executive's trip to Brazil, where the visit appears to have been undertaken for purely personal reasons'.

In three cases Professor Catford's flights were booked and paid for by the authority but he was then reimbursed travel expenses by the organisations whose meetings he was attending - the World Health Organisation and World Bank. In each of these cases, the expenses paid to him, and in one case a fee, should have been reimbursed to the health promotion authority, the district auditor concluded. In each of these, he recorded, 'this could be fraud'.

The auditor added that it appeared Professor Catford had 'exploited' his position to pursue and engage in private work for his own benefit.

The report was only published yesterday amid charges of a cover- up, after parts of it were leaked in a local newspaper last Friday. John Davies, chairman of Health Promotion Wales, denied there had been an attempt to keep the contents secret. Lawyers had advised him to withhold publication until after possible legal proceedings, he said.

He rejected calls for his resignation, saying: 'We are not a tarnished quango - although two individuals have been tarnished.'

Aside from the departure of Professor Catford, a second senior official, Gordon Macdonald, the quango's head of professional development, will not have his contract renewed after disciplinary action over his foreign travel. Last night, he maintained that there were inaccuracies in the district auditor's findings.

So far, Professor Catford has not commented on the findings.

Mr Morgan said that while the CPS did not give reasons for not proceeding, one reason that had been cited for Professor Catford not being prosecuted was the humiliation he had already suffered. 'I do not find that a satisfactory reason,' he added.