Edinburgh council officials admit bribe allegation

James Costello (pictured) admitted receiving cash and hospitality from Brendan Cantwell and Kevin Balmer
James Costello (pictured) admitted receiving cash and hospitality from Brendan Cantwell and Kevin Balmer
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TWO council officials have admitted accepting thousands of pounds of bribes from contractors as part of an elaborate fraud.

Edinburgh City Council workers Charles Owenson and James Costello took cash and hospitality from Brendan Cantwell and Kevin Balmer in exchange for influencing lucrative contracts for ABC Ltd.

Charles Owenson (pictured) admitted receiving cash and hospitality from Brendan Cantwell and Kevin Balmer.

Charles Owenson (pictured) admitted receiving cash and hospitality from Brendan Cantwell and Kevin Balmer.

Owenson and Costello admitted breaching the 1889 Public Bodies Corrupt Practices Act at a short hearing at Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday.

The pair were officers at the local authority’s now-defunct property care services section when they accepted the bribes between January 2006 and November 2010.

Three other men – former council officers Martin Rennie and John Markham, and contractor Gordon McKenzie – were discharged from the dock after their not guilty pleas to corruption charges were accepted. Yesterday, Cantwell, 44, and Balmer admitted corruptly giving £42,500 in cash and hospitality to the value of £30,250 to Owenson and Costello as inducements to secure contracts for the repair and maintenance of publicly owned buildings.

Owenson, 62, also admitted corruptly receiving fees and hospitality worth £28,400 as a reward for the allocation of city council contracts.

Police Scotland will investigate such allegations robustly

Det Insp Arron Clinkscales

He pleaded guilty to concealing and transferring criminal property by moving £32,400 into a bank account while Costello admitted a similar charge to the tune of £14,100.

Costello, 44, admitted he corruptly received the cash as a reward for awarding contracts to ABC Ltd.

The money-laundering took place between 2007 and 2012 at various locations.

Balmer, 52, admitted causing the city council to pay £68,000 to ABC Ltd between 2007 and 2010 and obtaining £22,600 by fraud.

He also pleaded guilty to adding almost £1,000 to a council invoice for materials and labour given to Costello for free, when the cost was put on a bill for works carried out at Duddingston and North Leith churchyards in the city.

All of the charges related to work contracts for council-owned public buildings, rather than privately owned properties.

The four men will next appear before Sheriff Michael O’Grady QC on Friday, when depute procurator fiscal Keith O’Mahoney will give the court a detailed account of events surrounding the case.

A hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act will be held in ­August.

Yesterday’s guilty pleas brought a five-year police investigation to a conclusion.

Detective Inspector Arron Clinkscales of Police Scotland said after the hearing: “This inquiry has attracted significant media coverage due to the misuse of public funds.

“Where reports of fraud or corruption in public office are made, Police Scotland will investigate such allegations thoroughly and robustly.

“The outcome at court today endorses the hard work of Police Scotland and the partner agencies involved in a long and complex enquiry.”

Sue Bruce, the city council’s chief executive, said the scandal had prompted a major overhaul in the local authority’s property departments.

She said: “We expect the highest standards from our staff and where allegations are made concerning mismanagement or fraud, we will investigate and take the strongest possible action.

“We have reviewed and made substantial changes to our management arrangements for this service.

“It is important that the public have the utmost faith in the services we provide.

“The overwhelming majority of our staff are committed to making a positive difference to the lives of people in Edinburgh.”