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Cases 'too complex' as white-collar convictions plummet

THE number of convictions for white-collar crime has plummeted despite a rise in the number of offences.

The complex nature of investigating fraud is being blamed for why convictions fell to just 178 in 2010 compared with 579 in 2003, a period when the number of cases rose.

And Justice Minister Alan Shatter has confirmed there are just two full-time accountants but no solicitors or barristers working in the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigations.

The ban on public sector recruitment means that outside expertise cannot be employed, but a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice last night insisted that Gardai were adequately staffed.

"The minister has been assured by the Garda Commissioner that the necessary resources and expertise are available to investigate white-collar crime," she said.

"The commissioner also has access to additional legal expertise, if required, through the law offices of the State including the Chief State Solicitor's Office and the offices of the Attorney General.

"Any request for additional resources will be fully considered in the light of the moratorium and redeployment opportunities available throughout the public service."

Figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) prepared for Labour TD Robert Dowds, show the number of people convicted of white-collar crime dropped from 579 in 2003 to 178 in 2010.

This is despite the number of cases rising – up from 2,295 in 2003 to 2,680 in 2010. The types of cases prosecuted include fraud, deception, falsifying accounts, offences under the Companies Acts, money laundering and embezzlement.

But the complex nature of the cases means that white-collar investigations take longer to complete then other probes.

It is not unusual for fraud investigations to take at least two years before a file is sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, which decides if a criminal charge should be brought.

Many complaints have been particularly complex, with an unprecedented amount of resources allocated to tackling, for example, the investigation into Anglo Irish Bank.

Mr Dowds said while some cases took a long time to investigate, it did not explain why the conviction rate had fallen.

Extradition

"Ordinary criminals go to jail for stealing from supermarkets and for burglaries. It would be good for the sake of justice that white-collar crime is pursued and punished with the same rigour of the law," he said.

"From these figures, it is clear that this is simply not happening. I think the Garda Commissioner needs to explain why he believes that two accountants is enough to tackle white-collar criminals."

Gardai have been given new powers to compel witnesses to be more co-operative in making files and documents available.

They also want detectives to be allowed to question suspects on a number of occasions, and that if a person refuses to make themselves available by fleeing the country they would be committing an offence and be subject to an extradition warrant.

Irish Independent