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Monday 11 December 2017

Blow for gardai as two senior fraud officers headhunted


Two of the garda's most experienced and successful corporate fraud investigators have taken early retirement after being headhunted for jobs in the financial sector.

Detective Superintendent Colm Featherstone and Det Inspector Denis Heneghan are both just over 50 and would have had at least eight years' service left before compulsory retirement. They were both offered senior positions; Det Super Featherstone with AXA and Det Insp Heneghan with AIB, to oversee compliance and anti-fraud measures.

Their early departures are a blow to the Garda Fraud Bureau and come after the early departure of another detective superintendent, Pat Collins, who left at the start of the year to take up a position as head of fraud and anti-money laundering with the Bank of Ireland.

Det Super Featherstone served in the Fraud Bureau since the early Nineties but left some years ago on promotion. He was brought back three years ago as detective superintendent to assist in the Anglo investigation. He worked alongside Det Super Collins on the case, the biggest in the history of the bureau.

Det Inspector Heneghan headed the credit card fraud unit and was successful in breaking up a gang of Bulgarian ATM card "swipers" who targeted Ireland in an organised campaign five years ago. He too had spent most of his career in the fraud division.

One of his first big cases was the successful prosecution of the Dublin solicitor and director of the Irish Press, Elio Malocco for using money from the newspaper's libel fund to cover losses he had made on investments. Malocco was convicted of fraud, sentenced to five years' imprisonment and struck off as a solicitor.

Det Inspector Heneghan was also involved in the jailing of the Cork stockbroker Stephen Pearson after the discovery of a €12m fraud at W&R Morrogh, one of the oldest stock broking companies in the country. This remains the biggest stock broking fraud prosecution to date and led to Pearson's imprisonment for five years.

Although the early retirements are a blow to the Fraud Bureau, senior sources note that in recent years the bureau has attracted a new generation of gardai, including some who gained impressive third-level education qualification before joining the force.

At a court case earlier this year when one of the bureau's investigators was under cross-examination by defence counsel it was put to him that he might not have the third-level qualifications required to understand certain aspects of a counterfeit-related issue. He replied that he had a first-class honours in mathematics.

However, senior sources concede that the Fraud Bureau does feel the loss of experience at senior level more so than other specialist units in the force. As banking and financial regulations increase in the aftermath of the scandals and crises of the past decade, the institutions are under increasing pressure to ensure diligence in their operations.

This is happening across the world. Garda Fraud Bureau officers who have worked closely with counterparts in the Metropolitan Police Force in London in the past have found that many of these detectives are also being offered similar jobs in banks in the City of London and are also taking early retirement.

One of the biggest drug cartel money laundering operations every uncovered in the US was brought to light when a retired Met fraud officer was brought into a major bank in London and came across the laundering of Mexican drugs through branches in the southern United States.

As gardai are entitled to full pension plus the year-and-a-half gratuity on retirement after completing 30 years' service the offer of senior positions in banking, finance and security firms is obviously enticing. Colleagues say the two latest officers to go had not been contemplating leaving the force but were made offers "they couldn't refuse".

There are still four detective superintendents in the bureau and four detective inspectors but sources say there will still be some difficulty in replacing the two departing officers.

The former head of the bureau, ex-chief superintendent Martin McLoughlin, retired at the end of last year, to be replaced by Chief Superintendent Dave Dowling, who also served with the bureau for years but transferred on promotion and was brought back by Commissioner Martin Callinan to take command.

Sunday Independent

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