Friday 20 July 2018

Anglo probe watchdog to be overhauled in wake of trial

Kevin O’Connell believed the ODCE was under-resourced
Kevin O’Connell believed the ODCE was under-resourced
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The State's corporate watchdog is to be ripped up and recast as a new agency in the wake of its bungled handling of the Sean FitzPatrick trial.

The Government is planning a major overhaul of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), setting it up as an independent agency with extra resources.

The move is part of a series of measures on white-collar crime expected to be announced later this week.

The ODCE is currently an arm of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, with a number of gardaí seconded to it from the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau. However, the recast body would be a standalone agency with much greater integration of gardaí into its operations for the investigation of fraudulent activity.

The ODCE was widely criticised as not being fit for purpose in the aftermath of the FitzPatrick trial.

Within a month of the former banker's acquittal, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar ordered an examination of the ODCE and of legislation surrounding white collar crime.

Since then officials at the Department of Justice and Department of Business have been working on proposals.

During the trial, it emerged the ODCE had coached witnesses while their statements were being taken, causing their evidence to become contaminated.

Changes to witness statements were suggested by the then head of the ODCE Paul Appleby and lead investigator Kevin O'Connell.

It also emerged Mr O'Connell deliberately shredded documents which should have been disclosed to Mr FitzPatrick's defence team.

Assurances were given to Government departments that the ODCE had enough resources to conduct the investigation, even though Mr O'Connell believed it was under-resourced.

The agency's conduct was strongly criticised by Judge John Aylmer when he directed Mr FitzPatrick be acquitted of charges of misleading auditors about loans. The trial, which finished last May, lasted 126 days and was the longest in Irish criminal history.

The corporate watchdog fully accepted the judge's criticism of its investigation.

It also emerged in the aftermath of the trial that there were significant issues with the filling of Garda posts at the ODCE and that it had been operating for several months without its full complement of gardaí.

ODCE director Ian Drennan told then Garda commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan that the most senior Garda position in the ODCE's Garda unit, that of detective inspector, had been vacant for eight months.

Mr Varadkar asked Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and Business Minister Frances Fitzgerald to develop a package of proposed reforms in June, citing ongoing public concern over the adequacy of the investigation and prosecution of white collar crime.

Irish Independent

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