Concerns as top posts at white collar watchdog left vacant
Three of the most senior investigative posts at the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) are vacant - including the top Garda, enforcement and legal positions, according to the agency's annual report.
The vacancies are likely to add to question marks already raised over the capacity of the ODCE to investigate white collar crime in the wake of its mishandling of an investigation into the collapse of Anglo Irish Bank.
In May Judge John Aylmer directed a jury to acquit former Anglo Irish Bank chairman Seán FitzPatrick on all charges brought against him following one of the most high-profile white-collar prosecutions ever.
The judge made the order in light of flaws in evidence arising from an investigation by the ODCE.
That ODCE probe, notoriously, saw improper shredding of documents by one senior official.
In the wake of that case the ODCE admitted it had been incapable of properly handling the investigation, blaming in part a lack of experienced staff.
Now, its annual report for 2016 published yesterday, shows three out of five senior "head of function roles" at the agency are vacant - head of enforcement, principal solicitor and detective inspector, the most senior of six Garda officer posts.
The absence of three critical leadership functions from an agency already beset by difficulties is likely to be a cause for public and political concern.
The head of enforcement and senior legal role were advertised last week, while a senior detective must be seconded from An Garda Síochána to the agency.
The ODCE said it had beefed up resources in the past year, including hiring five qualified and experienced investigative accountants from a variety of backgrounds including other law enforcement agencies and professional services firms.
Two more accountants are being recruited.
However, the report shows that the total number of staff was static last year at 37.5 in 2016 compared to 2015, despite hiring the extra accountants.
The report, written before the conclusion of the FitzPatrick trial, includes a preface by the current Director of Corporate Enforcement, Ian Drennan, who states the problems uncovered during the trial do not mean the agency's procedures are not fit for purpose - noting other cases had not collapsed.
"Any such perception would not be supported by the facts. In that context, it is important to note that, quite aside from the extent to which the structure and capabilities of this Office and its investigative procedures have been enhanced over recent years, no such issues have arisen in the other trials that have resulted from this Office's Anglo-related investigations," it said.
Separately, the ODCE confirmed it sent a report on the Anglo Irish Bank investigation to the Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Minister and that the minister has indicated it will be published, depending on advice from the attorney general.