Tuesday 19 September 2017

Serious fraud unit planned to tackle white-collar crime

First whistleblower to come forward 'could be given immunity'

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Tom Burke
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Tom Burke
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

A specialist unit will be created in the offices of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) to tackle white-collar crime under government plans to crack down on financial and corporate fraud.

A new Garda unit tasked with tackling serious and organised crime is also being proposed, as part of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's war on white-collar crime.

A government discussion paper seen by the Sunday Independent also proposed granting criminals involved in financial crimes immunity if they blow the whistle on colleagues and expose major corporate criminality.

The new policies would also streamline the investigative and trial process and ensure more effective prosecutions of criminals. The move comes as Tanaiste and jobs minister Frances Fitzgerald this weekend received a review of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement's (ODCE) investigation into former Anglo Irish Bank chairman Sean FitzPatrick. The High Court case against Mr FitzPatrick collapsed last month after serious failings in the ODCE's investigation.

Major concerns have been raised over the office's fitness for purpose after the longest-running case in the history of the State collapsed.

It is understood the report is with recently appointed Attorney-General Seamus Woulfe for his consideration before it is published.

Last week, the Taoiseach wrote to the Tanaiste and to Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, asking them to consider new measures to improve the investigation and prosecution of white-collar crime.

Mr Varadkar wants laws introduced to allow courts greater access to computer records which are relevant to crimes. Currently most evidence has to be introduced to the courts in paper format. He also wants to legislate for an improved pre-trial process.

The discussion paper calls for the introduction of a "formal structure for granting immunity to those suspected of white-collar crime".

"Such immunity could be restricted to the first person to come forward," the document added. The new Garda unit would be tasked with investigating organised crime, cybercrime, serious fraud and suspicious financial transactions.

The report also calls for the introduction of a new oversight body to monitor financial investment firms. The new agency would be modelled on the UK's Financial Reporting Council, which ensures companies are complying with a strict code of practice for investments.

In the letter to his ministers, Mr Varadkar said: "There is ongoing public concern about the investigation and prosecution of white-collar crime. There is a need to review the processes and procedures so that such crime can be more effectively investigated and, where appropriate, prosecutions taken.

"The development of a package of measures would help to enhance public faith in the Government's determination to prioritise the fight against white-collar crime and the protection and enhancement of our international reputation as a centre of best business practice."

Sunday Independent

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