Monday 21 May 2018

ODCE investigator admits mistakes in probe into Sean FitzPatrick loans

Sean Fitzpatrick. Photo: Collins Courts
Sean Fitzpatrick. Photo: Collins Courts
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) changed its procedures for taking statements from witnesses after “mistakes” were made by the lead investigator in a probe into Anglo Irish Bank chief executive Sean FitzPatrick.

ODCE legal advisor Kevin O’Connell led the taking of statements from two Ernst & Young employees who audited the accounts of Anglo.

But Dublin Circuit Criminal Court has heard claims by lawyers for Mr FitzPatrick that the two witnesses were “coached” on their evidence and allowed to “contaminate” each others statements.

Mr O’Connell admitted in court today that he had made mistakes and that the ODCE had now changed its procedures so that only gardaí on secondment there can take statements in criminal investigations.

The changes were implemented following the 2015 trial of Mr FitzPatrick, which did not reach a conclusion.

A new trial began last September and is now in its 69th day of hearing.

Mr FitzPatrick (68), of Whitshed Road, Greystones, Co Wicklow, denies 27 charges of misleading the auditors about the size of multi-million euro loans he had with Anglo between 2002 and 2007.

He resigned from the bank in 2008 after it emerged he had failed to disclose the size of the loans to shareholders.

During intense cross examination, Mr O’Connell admitted he had not been trained in the taking of statements and only became the leader of the investigation because gardaí at the ODCE were “flat out advancing other matters”.

“At the time we did not appreciate the risks created by people like me or my colleagues undertaking work that would have been better done by our garda colleagues,” he said.

Mr O’Connell acknowledged he had made mistakes, but insisted he had never knowingly done so.

The court has previously heard that Mr O’Connell had worked as a legal advisor in the ODCE and had had no prior experience of leading investigations before he was selected to head up the FitzPatrick probe in 2009.

Mr FitzPatrick’s barrister Bernard Condon SC accused Mr O’Connell of having sought to put himself “front and centre” in the investigation.

But Mr O’Connell denied this.

“Certain blocks of work came my way. Ernst & Young was one of them. Being front and centre is not something I seek to do in my work. I am not someone who seeks the limelight,” he said.

Mr O’Connell denied gardaí had been excluded from a meeting he attended with representatives of Ernst & Young.

He said the investigation was progressing against the backdrop of cutbacks in the public service and a freeze on garda recruitment.

“Repeated exhortations were being made to do more with less. That was the context within which this has to be understood,” he said.

However, Mr Condon told the jury that at a meeting with officials at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in March 2011, also attended by the Garda Commissioner, ODCE representatives said they were satisfied with the resources they had.

He said Mr O’Connell attended this meeting and did not raise any concern about resources.

Mr O’Connell said he was “a subordinate officer” to then Director of Corporate Enforcement Paul Appleby, and one of his colleagues had given the meeting the views of the director.

“I didn’t see it that I was entitled to go in and go off on a solo run about resources,” he said.

The trial continues.

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