New ‘white collar’ crime authority will replace ODCE
Cabinet receives report on collapse of Sean FitzPatrick trial
THE Government is to establish a new corporate enforcement authority to replace the office which was heavily criticised for its investigation into former Anglo Irish Bank chairman, Sean FitzPatrick, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
It is understood the Cabinet has received a report into the collapse of the trial of Mr FitzPatrick, who was accused but acquitted of misleading the bank’s auditors in relation to loans issued to him by the bank. The trial collapsed in May last year after evidence was heard that witnesses were coached and documents shredded.
And now the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), which investigated Mr Fitzpatrick, is to be replaced by a new authority to investigate allegations of ‘white collar’ crime, it has been learned.
The development comes as three government departments last week confirmed that only 11 of 23 actions scheduled to be completed by now, in relation to reform of white collar crime laws, have actually been completed.
Yesterday Fianna Fail spokesperson on Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Billy Kelleher, said there had been “dismal delivery” on reforms promised to be completed over the last 12 months.
After the collapse of the Sean FitzPatrick trial, the then Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, requested the Director of Corporate Enforcement to provide a report.
It is understood that report has now been furnished to the Cabinet and a decision made to replace the ODCE. Its current, and probably new and enhanced powers will be referred to what is being called “a new Corporate Enforcement Authority”.
After the collapse of the Sean FitzPatrick case, the judge heavily criticised the ODCE investigation that preceded that trial.
In particular, the judge criticised the manner in which the statements of two witnesses central to the prosecution — two audit partners from Ernst & Young — were obtained. Specifically, the judge ruled that both witnesses were coached by the ODCE and that, as a result, their evidence was contaminated. The ODCE fully accepted the criticism.
However, it its defence, the ODCE said the practices criticised dated back as to early 2009. “Over the intervening years, the ODCE has undergone substantial organisational change and as a result, some eight years later, it is a very different organisation to what it was at that time. It is clear at this remove that, at that time, the ODCE was simply not equipped to undertake parallel investigations on the scale involved,” it stated.
Another significant feature of the trial was the shredding of a number of documents by an ODCE staff member.
Afterwards, the ODCE said those actions clearly should not have occurred, however, said they had happened at a time during which the staff member concerned was under “enormous stress and against a backdrop of significant mental health issues, certain of which pre-dated the incident and which culminated in the staff member concerned being hospitalised for almost two months in the immediate aftermath of those events”.
The Sean FitzPatrick case had been the most high-profile with which the ODCE had been involved. Since then, the High Court has agreed to appoint inspectors to INM, publishers of this newspaper, following an application by the ODCE over concerns that INM’s affairs had been conducted in an unlawful manner.
In response to parliamentary questions to the departments of Business, Justice and Finance, Billy Kelleher yesterday said the Government has failed to deliver on deadlines contained in a report launched “to great fanfare” last November
A Government source said of the report, Measures to Enhance Ireland’s Corporate, Economic and Regulatory Framework: “It’s a long-term report plan that requires new legislation, new public bodies to be set up, staff recruited and trained etcetera.”
However, Mr Kelleher said: “White-collar reforms have been a fig leaf under Fine Gael. In the 2011 Programme for Government, many commitments were entered into, yet not delivered on.
“The collapse of the longest-running criminal trial in history, involving charges against Sean FitzPatrick, represented a damning indictment of the ODCE.
“The Government has promised for the last year to publish an account of the investigative failures from the trial and have at every opportunity fudged this. Minister Humphreys must publish this at once.
“Ministerial oversight of the ODCE under successive Fine Gael Ministers in the Department of Business relating to insufficient staff resources leaves a lot to be desired.”
ACQUITTED: Sean FitzPatrick