White-collar crime to be target of new crackdown
New laws will make it easier to prosecute people for insider trading, planning corruption and bribery offences.
The move is part of a major package on white-collar crime expected to be announced by the Government today.
It includes plans to overhaul the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), setting it up as an independent agency with extra resources.
The ODCE has been widely regarded as not fit for purpose in the wake of its bungled handling of the Sean FitzPatrick loans investigation.
The package includes laws that will finally implement recommendations made by the Mahon Tribunal, which investigated corrupt payments to politicians in connection with the planning process.
The Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Bill will include a new law which specifically targets lobbyists who may seek to bribe influential figures on behalf of someone else.
It will become an offence to make a payment to a third party who intends to use the money for bribes.
A new law is also planned to make it an offence to use confidential information to obtain an advantage corruptly.
This could be used to prosecute company executives for insider trading or businesspeople who use confidential planning information, such as rezoning proposals, to speculate on property.
Although insider trading laws already exist, there has never been a conviction.
The new laws are intended to be much easier to prosecute and will include penalties of up to 10 years in prison and unlimited fines. The Government hopes to have the laws in place by the third quarter of 2018.
The package also contains measures to minimise delays associated with white-collar crime trials. Currently such trials can often get bogged down with lengthy periods of legal argument in the absence of the jury. But under a new Criminal Procedure Bill, such issues will be resolved through pre-trial hearings before a jury is empanelled.
The legislation will also allow for the electronic transmission of warrants, more widespread use of video-link hearings, and for complex evidence to be provided in a manner which is more understandable to juries.
A further measure expected to be announced is the setting up of a joint agency task force on payment fraud.
This will examine measures to tackle criminal networks involved in invoice redirection and payment fraud.
The task force will be led by An Garda Síochána and include several other agencies, including the Central Bank. It is expected to be in operation by the middle of next year.
It will operate on a pilot basis for six months and could be used to examine other types of fraud and corruption in future.