Anger over praise for €2m secret top-up charity boss

By: Michael O’Farrell

Investigations Editor

The CEO of the St John of God group has formally left the charity, more than a year after going on sick leave in the wake of secret top-up revelations by this newspaper.

The departure of John Pepper – who received over €2m in secret pay-outs – was announced in an internal St John of God (SJOG) circular to all staff this week.

Mr Pepper has been on paid sick leave since late last year when an investigation by the Irish Mail on Sunday revealed that 14 executives shared millions in top-ups, while the charity lied to the HSE to deny such payments were being made.

Such top-ups are expressly forbidden by the HSE, which annually funds SJOG to the tune of €150m.

Yet, in this week’s circular, the head of the SJOG Order, Brother Donatus Forkan, paid tribute to Mr Pepper.

‘John Pepper has left our organisation after 30 years of service,’ he wrote. ‘John… has served the Order with a strong personal commitment, work ethic and dedication… We thank John for the substantial contribution he has made, and we wish him and his family every health, happiness and success in the years ahead.’

Ordinary workers are said to be angry that the memo made no reference whatsoever to the scandal.

Mr Pepper’s role was highlighted in a recent external governance review by SJOG which emphasised his control over financial decisions at the charity.

The review – by independent governance expert Patricia Quinn – concluded that Mr Pepper dominated an inadequate and poorly governed system of financial control at SJOG.

Despite these governance failures, SJOG, under the control of Mr Pepper, was handed over €500m in taxpayers’ funds in recent years.

The top-up scandal resulted in a damning HSE audit investigation report. Among other things, it recommended the money be clawed back.

Last night a spokesman for the SJOG Group declined to specify if any money has been repaid. He also declined to comment about severance payments – if any – which may have been made to Mr Pepper.

The MoS understands that, under pressure from the HSE, the charity asked the 14 executives in question to consider repaying the money.

It is understood some initially indicated they were willing to do so and met with consultants from Pricewaterhouse Coopers – the firm that oversaw the top-up mechanism for SJOG – to explore options for doing so.

However, the managers are understood to have subsequently reconsidered and are taking legal advice. Last night, spokespersons for the HSE and SJOG said both parties remained in a dialogue to address the issues arising from the HSE’s audit.

Postscript – More than a month after we broke this story the Irish Times and the Independent decided to play catch up in strikingly similar ways. Have a look at their “soft” reporting at the following links;

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/st-john-of-god-chief-john-pepper-steps-down-after-30-years-1.3361929

https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/st-john-of-god-group-chief-executive-steps-down-36509431.html

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