Business Personal Finance

Tuesday 22 August 2017

Phones, computer hard drives seized in 'military-style' raid by EU investigators on insurance office

Key executives of Insurance Ireland had their mobile phones confiscated, with the contents to be used in any case the EU takes against insurers. (Stock image)
Key executives of Insurance Ireland had their mobile phones confiscated, with the contents to be used in any case the EU takes against insurers. (Stock image)
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

European Union investigators took away mobile phones, computer hard drives and documents when they raided the offices of Insurance Ireland.

It is also understood that the investigators from Europe's Competition Directorate are to be in Dublin for a week and are set to carry out a series of raids on insurance companies and other insurance bodies.

European officials are investigating the possibility that an insurance cartel is operating within the Irish motor insurance industry.

They are understood to have been preparing for the raid for months.

The EU authorities, accompanied by Irish competition watchdog personnel and gardaí, were in the offices of Insurance Ireland until 10pm on Tuesday.

A state of panic pervaded Insurance Ireland's Dublin offices when the regulators swooped.

High-paid lawyers from law firm Arthur Cox were summoned by the industry body to observe the unprecedented raid.

This led to a situation where the small offices in the IFSC were crawling with people.

Close to 100 people were packed into the premises of Insurance Ireland, the representative body for insurers.

Some 45 officers from the EU and the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, lawyers for Insurance Ireland, and staff who normally work in the Insurance Ireland offices were bumping into each other, such were the numbers involved.

Executives

Key executives of Insurance Ireland had their mobile phones confiscated, with the contents to be used in any case the EU takes against insurers.

Individual Insurance Ireland executives were summoned and questioned from a list that the EU Competition Directorate was working off.

Passwords for computers and databases were demanded, files removed and computer hard drives were taken away.

One person familiar with the situation said: "They seemed to be very well prepared. The whole operation was forensic. They sought out named individuals and took their mobile phones. It almost had a military style to it."

He said the staff in Insurance Ireland were gripped by panic and disbelief.

Some workers were unable to leave until late in the evening, and food had to be ordered in.

The raids were prompted by allegations that motor insurers in this country are operating a cartel by price-fixing.

A cartel is a conspiracy against consumers to keep prices artificially high. A cartel usually means restricting new entrants to a market.

Motor premiums have been going up by as much as 70pc at times over the past three years.

It is understood a database with details about drivers and their claims history was the focus of the raids.

The EU officials are expected to be in Dublin until the end of the week, with more raids of insurance companies on their agenda.

Irish Independent

Also in Business