New reforms to tackle white collar crime 'most comprehensive series of actions ever undertaken' - Frances Fitzgerald
Frances Fitzgerald, Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, described a raft of reforms aimed at tackling white collar crime as the “most comprehensive series of actions ever undertaken in this area”.
The sweeping new laws, designed to make it easier to prosecute people for insider trading, planning corruption and bribery offences, were foreshadowed in the Irish Independent this morning.
The Tánaiste, flanked by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan and the Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, unveiled the measures at Government Buildings earlier this afternoon.
The far-reaching policy changes include plans to overhaul the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), establishing it 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.
However the Tánaiste side-stepped questions about whether the director of the ODCE, Ian Drennan, would continue in his role following the organisation’s change in status.
As part of the reforms, the Government has signed up to an international transparency drive known as the Common Reporting Standard (CRS). The move enables Irish tax authorities to share information with their counterparts overseas, and offer far-reaching powers to tackle tax cheats.
Minister Donohoe said he intends to introduce CRS by the end of the year and said “of all the measures I have introduced, this one will have the most significant impact” in terms of tackling tax evasion and white collar crime.
Minister Flanagan said “the measures we are introducing today make it abundantly clear that the Government is dedicated to ensuring a robust anti-corruption framework and ensuring the law is sufficiently strong and clear to sanction those who commit these crimes”.
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.