Saturday 20 January 2018

Ministers cited the 'crucial' Anglo probe as they struck pension deal for watchdog

ODCE boss was asked to stay on for six months and avoided cuts to entitlements

Minister for Education Richard Bruton Picture: Frank McGrath
Minister for Education Richard Bruton Picture: Frank McGrath
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Richard Bruton and Brendan Howlin stressed the importance of the investigation into Anglo Irish Bank - as they struck a controversial deal for the early retirement of former director of corporate enforcement Paul Appleby.

Mr Appleby wanted to retire before the end of February 2012, thus avoiding cuts to his pension that would have kicked in after that month due to wage reductions in the public sector.

The Fine Gael-Labour government persuaded him to remain in office for six months while a replacement was found.

They agreed to allow Mr Appleby to retain the pension entitlements he would have had if he retired in February 2012.

He has enjoyed pension benefits worth a total of almost €590,000 since he retired later that year. Speaking on the day the deal was being negotiated, then-jobs minister Mr Bruton said Mr Appleby agreeing to stay on "reflects the importance that the government accords to the crucial investigation into Anglo".

Mr Howlin, the public expenditure minister at the time, said he was glad "there will be no disruption whatsoever in the investigative work".

The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) has now been heavily criticised for its botched investigation of criminal charges against Seán FitzPatrick, Anglo Irish Bank's former chairman.

Read More: How Appleby resigned, got a lucrative deal on his pension, then stayed on for six months

Mr FitzPatrick was this week cleared of misleading Anglo Irish Bank's auditors about millions of euro in loans.

Judge John Aylmer said that the ODCE had been "inappropriately biased" in its approach to the case.

Errors in how the case was handled date back to Mr Appleby's time at the helm of the ODCE.

Last night, Mr Bruton's spokesman said the then-government's view was the notice given by Mr Appleby in late January 2012 of his intention to retire in February was not sufficient to allow a public competition to replace him.

The spokesman said that "taking into account the important cases" being handled by the office, a vacancy in the role was "not something which the government wanted to see".

"Mr Appleby's position was not improved in any way as a result of his agreement to stay on for six months to facilitate the smooth transition. In effect, he retained the pension entitlements he would have had if he retired in February 2012," the spokesman said.

The spokesman said that Mr Bruton shares the view of other government members that the way the ODCE carried out the Seán FitzPatrick investigation is "very disappointing".

Mr Howlin also said Mr Appleby's proposal to resign from his role at the ODCE came at "short notice". Mr Howlin said the government was briefed on the matter by Mr Bruton and was "advised that his departure might have serious implications for the successful completion of the Anglo Irish Bank investigation".

Read More: Mitchell O'Connor demands full report on botched Anglo case within a month

Mr Howlin said: "My intention, and indeed that of all of government at the time, was to ensure a thorough, comprehensive and accurate investigation.

"Our actions in relation to Mr Appleby were intended solely to achieve that purpose," he added.

He said "we now know" that the investigation of the FitzPatrick case was "seriously flawed".

Mr Howlin said the Labour party wants "an immediate independent investigation into the workings of the ODCE".

The ODCE would not say last night if Mr Appleby has been asked to contribute to a report on the case sought by current Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor.

Irish Independent

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