A social welfare tourist who flew between the Czech Republic and Cork on a regular basis to sign on for jobseeker’s allowance has been given a five-month suspended jail term for stealing €4,000 in the scam.
Garda Kevin Heffernan on secondment to the Department of Social Protection classified the crime as social welfare tourism.
Tomas Horak, 33, who is of no fixed address in Cork, denied the charges and explained a total of 25 flights by reference to his sick mother. He said he was visiting her and was also looking for jobs in Cork online while out of the country.
Judge Olann Kelleher said he did not accept the evidence of the accused.
Frank Buttimer, solicitor, asked for sentencing to be adjourned to give Horak an opportunity to pay back the money to the State.
Judge Kelleher said it was in the interests of all parties to finalise the case yesterday. Referring to the maximum sentence of 12 months imprisonment the judge said that what was saving Horak from jail was the fact that he had no previous convictions.
Garda Heffernan said he received information in March to the effect Horak was flying in and out of the country to collect jobseekers allowance of €188 per week.
Applying through Data Protection he obtained Ryanair flight information showing the accused took 25 flights in and out of Ireland between mid-September 2014 and March 2015.
The flights were cross-checked with visits made by Horak to Bandon Road post office in Cork. Eleven return flights matched dates where he visited the post office to collect welfare. On each occasion he was able to collect two one-week payments together.
Garda Heffernan said there was a pattern where the accused was out of the country for about 10 days and in Ireland for about four days and that this travel pattern repeated itself over a six-month period.
Horak was charged with 21 counts of theft arising out of the case. Horak was finally arrested in March and questioned on to the matter. During that interview Garda Heffernan put it to him, “you were a social welfare tourist”.
Horak disagreed with that description and said: “I don’t agreed. I am definitely not a social welfare tourist. I see myself as a jobseeker and a permanent resident of Ireland.”
Mr Buttimer, solicitor, explained that the accused had been in Ireland for the past nine years and had worked in a number of jobs including catering and IT.
Mr Buttimer said the accused always paid his tax and PRSI contributions when in employment, adding: “He was not being dishonest, he was always compliant.”
Horak said he came to Ireland to learn to speak English and to work. He said that he did a two-year course in IT while in Cork and later found work in that area.
Inspector Adrian Gamble said: “The optics are that you were coming in to collect social welfare and going out again.” Horak said that would not make sense in light of what flights and other travel would cost him.
Judge Kelleher convicted the accused on the 21 theft charges and said: “I believe he knew exactly what he was doing.”
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