September 05, 2007

MEP jailed for benefit fraud

A British MEP was jailed for nine months today for falsely claiming more than £65,000 in benefits.

Ashley Mote, an independent MEP for south-east England who formerly represented Ukip, was found guilty of 21 charges of deception at Portsmouth crown court. Despite the sentence, Mote will retain his seat in the European parliament. MEPs are only disqualified from office if they receive jail terms of more than 12 months.

Mote, 71, was found guilty of eight charges of false accounting, eight of obtaining a money transfer by deception, four of evading liability and one of failing to notify a change of circumstances. He was acquitted of a further four charges.

The judge, Richard Price, said he had taken into consideration the defendant's age in determining the length of the jail term, as well as sentencing advice provided by the government because of prison overcrowding. The judge told the MEP that his situation was a "tragedy" and, despite his work in the European parliament, the charges of which Mote had been found guilty could "only be met by a custodial sentence - nothing else would be appropriate".

The Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, said he was "disgusted and horrified" by what he called the "leniency" of the sentence.

"If he had been jailed for more than a year, the seat could have been reassigned to Ukip. As it is, the voters in the south-east will see taxpayers' money going to a man serving a prison sentence, unable to represent them."

Mr Farage said Mote, who earns £60,277 a year as an MEP, should step down.

"I know it's far too much to expect, but if this man had a shred of decency or integrity left, he'd resign."

The four-week trial heard that Mote ran a once successful business which collapsed in 1989.

He began to claim income support, housing benefits and council tax benefits but failed to notify the benefits agency when he began earning money through various enterprises, including spread betting on currency markets from February 1996 to September 2002, during which time he received £73,000 in benefits.

The court heard he used this money to pay off credit card debts that he had run up funding an "extravagant lifestyle", including restaurant dinners, private healthcare and holidays to the US, France and the Caribbean.

Mote, who was elected in 2004, came to attention early in the year when he signed up to the neo-fascist "Identity, Sovereignty and Tradition" European parliament grouping, which also includes Jean-Marie Le Pen, of the French National Front, and similarly far-right groups from Italy, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.

Ukip had already withdrawn its whip by then because of the impending benefit fraud trial.


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