Anglo probe to take two years
Scandal-hit bank drops objection to examination of documents seized by watchdog
Published 03/07/2010 | 05:00
IT could take up to two years before the completion of any criminal prosecution arising out of the corporate watchdog's investigation into the affairs of State-owned Anglo Irish Bank.
The Commercial Court heard yesterday that no charges have yet been brought against the scandal-hit bank.
And counsel for the Director of Corporate Enforcement (DCE) said it was likely to be a year or two before any prosecution was concluded, including any appeal.
The court heard earlier that Anglo has agreed to limited disclosure in relation to its previous assertion of legal privilege over some electronic documents seized by the director as part of his ongoing investigation into the bank.
The electronic material and data relates to some 20 employees of the bank and covers the period from January 2008 to February 2009.
Last month, the court heard Finance Minister Brian Lenihan had urged the bank "at the highest level" to look again at whether it should maintain the assertion of legal professional privilege (LPP) over the documents because it was delaying the director's investigation.
The director's applications to court arose out of amending company law enacted last July to address legal issues relating to search warrants and claims of LPP.
The general nature of the Anglo investigation is into possible offences under the Companies Acts, involving the giving of financial assistance by a company for the purchase of its own shares.
Counsel for the DCE said the Anglo board had considered the minister's request and offered limited disclosure.
This would entitle gardai and experts access to the documents, including for the purpose of a prosecution, but would not allow for disclosure to third parties thinking about, or already taking, civil actions against the bank.
This was not a general waiver because the bank -- as a publicly funded institution -- had to protect its commercial interests as well as the public interest, counsel said.
Concerns were raised that such limited disclosure could be meaningless if it meant it could not be used as part of any prosecution by the DPP.
A Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation into Anglo's affairs was closely harmonised with the director's investigation and a garda inspector had been seconded to the director's office for that purpose, counsel said.
Mr Justice Peter Kelly said the offer from the bank would substantially advance the investigation and he was prepared to grant an order on the terms of limited disclosure.
He told the parties to come up with an agreed wording in a week's time.
The bank is prepared to waive -- not generally, but in a significant way -- the LPP that attaches to certain documents, the judge said. These are to be disclosed to the director, those working with him, to the DPP, and to any person who may be the subject of a prosecution.
"The net effect is the director will now be apprised of a great deal more material than would otherwise be the case," the judge said.
The judge said he was glad the bank had been able to make the decision it did as he noted, in an affidavit yesterday from the director's legal adviser, Adrian Brennan, that the investigation had been delayed for several months because of the privilege issue.