Lawyers say new laws to tackle white collar crime 'not needed'
Justice Minister Alan Shatter at Kings Inns, Dublin, yesterday. Martin Nolan
LEADING prosecutors have questioned the need for new laws to tackle white collar crime.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter said yesterday that new laws would be published within weeks to combat white collar crime and speed up investigations, including the current investigations into alleged financial irregularities at Anglo Irish Bank.
But some of the country's leading prosecutors have questioned the need for new laws and say the State is "already armed with heavy weaponry" to prosecute suspected white collar criminals but is not using it.
Mr Shatter, speaking at a conference hosted by the Irish Criminal Bar Association, said he was forced to bring in a new white collar crime bill because of the experiences of those involved in the investigations and prosecutions.
But senior counsel Dominic McGinn told the conference that the banking crisis of 2008 was not caused through want of a regulatory scheme or criminal sanctions.
"If lessons are to be learnt from the 2008 crash, they must surely be not to jump to introduce new legislation, not to create new criminal offences specifically targeted at bankers and not to undertake a radical overhaul of the financial regulatory system," said Mr McGinn.
"Rather, it appears that the enforcement measures, which were available to properly regulate the banking industry, were not employed to their full potential, if at all."
Senior counsel Shane Murphy also questioned the need for new legislation. "The (prosecutorial) weapons are there, we are just choosing not to use them," he said.
Mr Murphy, who said that barristers and other experts should be available to investigators at the earliest opportunity, said that the Director of Public Prosecutions was reluctant to engage in a general programme that would grant full or partial immunity to informants who expose wrongdoing at banks and financial institutions.
The planned laws include:
- Requiring "reluctant" witnesses to produce documents, answer questions and provide information to help the investigation of relevant offences by giving the gardai new powers to apply to the court for orders to disclose the material sought.
- Suspending detention periods.
- A new offence of failing to report to gardai information about a criminal offence.
Three separate investigations are ongoing into Anglo since its spectacular collapse, which is expected to cost the taxpayer €25bn.
As well as the garda inquiry, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and the Chartered Accountants Regulatory Board are holding their own separate probes.
But almost three years after Ireland's banking crisis, not one former banker or financial official has been prosecuted in the courts.
Yesterday, Mr Shatter said the new bill would be published within weeks to help speed up major investigations.
The legislation is being targeted at specified serious and complex offences attracting a penalty of at least five years' imprisonment.
Mr Shatter said public faith in justice was being tested over the unpunished wrongdoing of rogue bankers.
"The public are concerned that the investigation and prosecution of white collar crime in this country is taking too long," he said.
"The complexities of financial crime create a high challenge for investigators and for prosecutors.
"However, we must find ways to ensure that, no matter how complex the crime, no matter how important, wealthy or influential the wrongdoer, he or she must be brought before the courts."