Metropolitan Police fraud squad officers are assessing whether to investigate allegations of misconduct in public office and fraud made against the BBC’s severance payments and benefits for senior managers.
Conservative MP Rob Wilson requested the Met Police consider the possibility of an investigation after a National Audit Office (NAO) report identified cases where the BBC made payments of hundreds of thousands of pounds - approved at high level, even by the director-general - although executives were not always entitled to the money.
The BBC spent £25 million on severance payments for 150 high-ranking staff in a three-year period up to December, according to last month’s NAO report, and since 2005 has made payments totaling £60 million to 401 senior managers.
In almost a quarter of the individual cases reviewed by the NAO, the BBC paid out more than the staff were entitled to under their contracts.
The Met Police has now written to Reading East MP Mr Wilson to confirm officers from the Fraud Squad, Specialist, Organised and Economic Crime Command have been tasked with assessing if an investigation is required.
No decision has been taken on whether the allegations should be investigated, according to the force.
Met Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, in his letter to Mr Wilson, said: “Further to your letter dated July 11, 2013, detailing your request for the Metropolitan Police Service to consider a police investigation regarding allegations of misconduct in a public office and fraud in relation to severance payments and wide benefits for senior BBC managers, officers from the Fraud Squad, Specialist, Organised and Economic Crime Command (SC&O7) have been tasked to conduct an assessment of the information provided in your letter.
“We are currently gathering information to assist with our assessment and a decision will be made as to whether we progress to a full investigation in due course. We will update you with any developments.”
Conservative MP Rob Wilson said: “The BBC should never have got itself into a position where the fraud squad is looking at an investigation.
“However, something is not right about these huge pay-offs and potential wrongdoing needs to be ruled out.
“The police are the only organisation in a position to do that.”
A Met Police spokesman said: “The contents of the letter are being assessed.”
Last month’s NAO report identified one case where a BBC executive was paid £300,000 in lieu of notice after their redundancy was agreed - despite serving their notice in full.
The payment, equivalent to the cost of 2,062 licence fees - was agreed by then director-general Mark Thompson, and the unnamed figure’s redundancy was paid even though they had found a new job.
The report also highlighted the case of former BBC2 controller Roly Keating, who was given a £375,000 pay-off but returned the money last month after learning it had not been properly authorised.
Last month Mr Wilson wrote to the NAO following the publication of its report.
He wrote: ‘’In the event that you consider it is possible that criminal offences may have taken place, I would be grateful if you would inform me whether, in your opinion, the evidence is sufficient to warrant a wider investigation as to the possibility of fraud, collusion in fraud, misuse of public funds, or other wrongdoing in relation to severance payments at the BBC in recent years.”
He added last month: “’Having studied the report overnight, I do think there are individual cases that require further explanation and examination.
“I have therefore written to the NAO today asking whether it has further information it can share about the process by which pay-offs were made and whether any element of fraud or other criminal wrongdoing associated.
“Based on the reply I receive, I will consider whether there are grounds to refer this matter to the police.’’