Ten solicitors being investigated
A NEW wave of prosecutions against solicitors is expected next year following the introduction of laws aimed at clamping down on white-collar crime.
The Irish Independent has learned that at least 10 other solicitors are under investigation by the garda fraud bureau under anti-money laundering laws after they were reported to gardai by the Law Society, the ruling body for solicitors.
Investigators and lawyers say the landscape for gardai, suspects and third parties has "changed completely" since the gardai were given the power to arrest and detain people without a warrant for up to 24 hours if they suspect someone of withholding information.
Two years ago the Government made it illegal for anyone not to report to gardai information which they know or believe might be of "material assistance" to prevent the commission of certain crimes or to hinder the prosecution of those who have committed certain crimes.
Section 19 of the 2011 Criminal Justice Act was aimed at helping gardai investigate financial crimes including corporate offences, fraud and corruption.
The law has proved critical in the investigation of solicitors suspected of theft and fraud.
Penalties for failing to report are severe, attracting an unlimited fine and up to five years in prison if convicted following a jury trial.
The Law Society has confirmed that it has reported solicitors to gardai under Section 19 and last year it made 12 reports under anti-money laundering laws.
The criminal investigations, which are at an advanced stage, come as former solicitor Thomas Byrne begins a 12-year sentence after being convicted in a landmark €52m fraud trial.
The separated father of three (47) was sentenced after he was convicted of stealing almost €52m from six banks and defrauding 13 clients out of houses or money.
Last month, a jury returned unanimous guilty verdicts on all 50 charges of theft, forgery and deception after deliberating for more than 17 hours over the course of five days.
The trial, which lasted six weeks, was the largest fraud trial in the history of the State.
Judge Pat McCartan described the scale of Mr Byrne's wrongdoing as "colossal", which had involved "considerable skill and cunning" on Mr Byrne's part.
The judge sentenced Mr Byrne to 16 years with four years suspended.
During the trial, former clients of Mr Byrne spoke of their "horror" when they discovered the title deeds to their family homes had been signed over to him and used as security for multi-million euro bank loans.
Many only became aware of the transactions after Byrne's practice was closed down by the Law Society in 2007.
Prosecuting lawyers said Byrne was like a gambler who wouldn't throw his hand in even at the end.
Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor