Naval officer accused of MoD expenses fraud

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A SENIOR naval officer used his government credit card to defraud the Ministry of Defence of £2,600, a court martial heard today.

Lieutenant Commander Andrew Ball, who is now based at HMS Collingwood in Fareham, was in America on an exchange program with the US Navy when nine offences are alleged to have taken place in 2009.

The 41-year-old is accused of misusing his government procurement card to pay $1,429 (£903) for a hire car in Orlando, Florida and restaurant bills while he was stationed at the US Navy War College in Rhode Island. He also used the Barclaycard to pay off utility bills he’d already claimed for through the MoD’s online expenses system, the court heard.

Prosecutor Captain Stuart Crozier said an investigation into Ball’s US expenses began when he used his MoD card to pay to hire a car from Hertz during a visit to Orlando on July 31, 2009.

‘This was a personal expense by him. He was not entitled to use that card in that manner,’ said Capt Crozier.

He added: ‘The key was the hire car back in 2009 which came to the attention of the British Defence Section and as a result an investigation was commenced by the Royal Navy Investigation Branch in September 2009 and handed over to the MoD police to pursue.’

The investigation unveiled nine misuses of the expenses system which stretched from January to August 2009, the court heard. On six occasions, it is alleged Ball used the MoD card to pay off utility bills that he had already claimed for through the MoD’s online expenses system to the tune of $2,332 (£1,474).

‘The prosecution say in effect that is a double claim,’ Capt Crozier said.

The court heard on March 26, 2009, Ball used his MoD card to pay for a $268 (£170) bill at a Sakura Steakhouse restaurant. It was also alleged he used the card to pay a $70 (£45) bill at Beaver Bar and Grill on August 23, 2009. On August 7, 2009, the court heard Ball paid $889 (£560) to Rent-A-Center store to hire equipment for personal use.

The total amount of the expenses fraud totalled $4,192 (£2,653), the prosecution said.

The trial heard Ball had been briefed by the British Embassy in Washington and had signed a memorandum of understanding that use of the MoD card could only be used to reimburse household costs such as rent and utility bills before it was issued to him in August 2008.

The prosecution said Ball was interviewed under caution by MoD detectives on two occasions relating to the alleged offences, during which the officer said he’d made the claims by mistake.

Capt Crozier said: ‘He said his personal administration had not been as good as it should have been to the extent he found himself overwhelmed by admin.’

He added: ‘He said the charges were done by way of an administrative error and were by accident.’

The trial continues.