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Friday 22 September 2017

Anglo shredder raised concerns about staffing at watchdog in 2011

Kevin O’Connell: his emails were forwarded last month. Picture: Collins
Kevin O’Connell: his emails were forwarded last month. Picture: Collins
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

The lead investigator behind the botched probe into former Anglo boss Seán FitzPatrick raised grave fears in a series of emails about the lack of resources and experience available to his team, the Irish Independent can reveal.

But the emails sent by Kevin O'Connell, the legal adviser to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), were only forwarded to the Government last month - after the FitzPatrick case had dramatically collapsed.

The Irish Independent understands that a report into the shortcomings of the case will confirm that Mr O'Connell has been moved out of the now under-fire corporate watchdog.

It was found during the course of the trial that Mr O'Connell shredded documents that were relevant to the investigation and that key witnesses were subject to coaching.

Sean FitzPatrick Picture: Collins
Sean FitzPatrick Picture: Collins

But the Government is now set to come under major pressure to set up a public inquiry after it emerged Mr O'Connell sent a series of emails detailing the lack of resources and pressures within the ODCE surrounding the investigation.

In an extraordinary development, well-placed sources told the Irish Independent last night that the emails - which date back to 2011 - were only sent to the Department of Enterprise last month.

This raises major questions, sources say, over whether the Government was kept in the dark about the scale of the problems facing the corporate watchdog.

Former jobs minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor ordered an immediate report into the shortcomings of the case, which concluded with Mr FitzPatrick walking away as a free man.

The report, which is expected to confirm the departure of the ODCE's legal adviser, has been forwarded to Attorney General Seamus Woulfe by the new Jobs Minister, Frances Fitzgerald.

Sources say the report, carried out by ODCE director Ian Drennan, will point to the deficiencies in the ODCE over several years and how this contributed to the collapse of the trial.

It's understood the report will also detail how requests for additional gardaí went unfulfilled.

Last month, Mr FitzPatrick was cleared on all charges of misleading Anglo Irish Bank's auditors about loans, as the judge in the case criticised the investigation by the ODCE.

But revelations that lead investigator Mr O'Connell flagged concerns internally as far back as 2011 places the future of the ODCE in doubt.

This is despite the fact that Mr O'Connell admitted during the trial that he assured the Government that it didn't need further resources.

He said in hindsight this was wrong and that there were too many people trying to do too much as part of the investigation into the alleged provision of illegal loans by Anglo in order to buy shares in the bank.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday confirmed the Government will bring proposals to strengthen our response to white-collar crime in the autumn.

"The collapse of some quite significant trials in recent times has shown up weaknesses in our system and I think there is a real growing demand from the public - a very correct demand from the public - that we take a much tougher approach when it comes to corporate fraud, white-collar crime and corporate corruption," Mr Varadkar said.

In a statement last night, a spokesperson for the Department of Jobs said it has always dealt "positively" in regards to any requests from the ODCE for more resources.

This was communicated to the ODCE and An Garda Síochána as far back as 2011.

"The department would point out that the recruitment of professional and technical expertise such as accountants, legal advisers and solicitors takes more time than 'general service' recruitment, especially when the job specifications are very specific," the statement added.

Irish Independent

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