Thursday 23 November 2017

Justice Minister slams ODCE as 'unfit for purpose'

Agency under fire over 'highly unusual' email about barrister

ACQUITTED: Sean FitzPatrick. Picture: Collins
ACQUITTED: Sean FitzPatrick. Picture: Collins

Philip Ryan and Maeve Sheehan

The Minister for Justice said the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement is not fit for purpose following the spectacular collapse of Sean FitzPatrick's trial.

Speaking for the first time about the debacle, Frances Fitzgerald described the agency's case against the former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, Mr FitzPatrick, as an "absolute disgrace".

The Tanaiste said there is an "absolute sense of outrage from the public over the lack of accountability".

She added: "Given what people have suffered they feel there is unfinished business and failings of the agency are profound - it was clearly not fit for purpose."

Mr FitzPatrick was acquitted last week of all charges of misleading Anglo Irish Bank's auditors about loans. The trial judge ruled that the ODCE mounted a biased and flawed investigation, key witnesses were coached and statements contaminated.

In a further embarrassment to the agency, it has emerged that the ODCE breached EU laws on public procurement when it spent more than €300,000 on expert testimony for the FitzPatrick trial. Most of the evidence from two experts who work in London accountancy firm Mazars could not go before the jury. The Sunday Independent has also learned that the ODCE caused consternation by its apparent intervention in the appointment of Mr FitzPatrick's defence counsel to an important role as trustee of a charity.

The Charities Regulator nominated Shelley Horan, a white-collar crime expert, as a trustee to the beleaguered suicide charity, Console, when it was hit by financial scandal last year.

The announcement prompted the ODCE, which was poised to investigate the charity, to write to Console's lawyers that "you might note for information purposes that Ms Shelley Horan BL is currently acting for Mr Sean FitzPatrick in DPP v Sean FitzPatrick, a prosecution in which this Office is the associated investigative authority''.

The ODCE's email caused consternation in legal circles, with sources this weekend describing its intervention as "highly unusual" and inappropriate.

Ms Horan is adjunct professor at Trinity and designed the King's Inns Advanced Diploma Course in white-collar crime, which some ODCE staff have attended. Attempts to contact the ODCE this weekend were unsuccessful.

The ODCE will report next month to Mary Mitchell O'Connor, the Minister for Enterprise with oversight of the ODCE. She has said she will "review all options" and said "nothing is off the table''.

Sunday Independent

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