Saturday 20 January 2018

Pressure grows on minister to deal with Anglo 'failure'

Anger in the Dáil over botched investigation as Mitchell O'Connor seeks report on case

Pressure is growing on the Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor in the wake of the case. Photo: Tom Burke
Pressure is growing on the Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor in the wake of the case. Photo: Tom Burke

Cormac McQuinn and Shane Phelan

Pressure is mounting on Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor to deal with the fallout from the collapse of the criminal case against former bank boss Seán FitzPatrick.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said the case represents "a catastrophic systemic failure".

He said the reputation of the lead agency in the investigation, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), was "in shreds".

The ODCE is under the remit of Ms Mitchell O'Connor's department and Mr Martin said she must make a statement to the Daíl on the case and face questions from TDs.

He said the handling of the case by the ODCE "shatters public confidence in the prosecution of white-collar crime in this country".

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, meanwhile, did not hide his own frustration at the case he described as "one of the longest and most expensive in the history of the State", repeating on a number of occasions that the taxpayer has been left with the costs. He told the Dáil: "The judge has made a decision. The trial is over and Mr FitzPatrick is a free man. The taxpayer takes up the tab here."

Mr Kenny also said Mr FitzPatrick had been acquitted and was not guilty of any offence.

Mr FitzPatrick, the former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, was cleared of misleading the defunct financial institution's auditors about millions of euro in loans. Judge John Aylmer ruled that he should be acquitted and said that the ODCE had been "inappropriately biased" in its approach to the case.

Mr Martin said the collapse of the trial represented a "damning indictment" of the ODCE and also argued that it reflected poorly on gardaí and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Read More: Ex-Anglo probe chief has bagged €590,000 since early retirement

He said the situation raised "fundamental questions about the continued existence" of the ODCE. And he said it was "imperative" alternative mechanisms to deal with white-collar crime are considered.

Mr Martin asked Mr Kenny if Ms Mitchell O'Connor had sought a report from the ODCE on what happened. Mr Kenny confirmed that Ms Mitchell O'Connor had requested a "full report" from the agency and gave a commitment that she would address the Dáil on the matter.

He said that the ODCE was an independent body that got its own legal advice. He insisted the ODCE had been given resources it sought for the case, despite its claim that it was not equipped to take on parallel investigations of the scale involved.

Mr Kenny suggested that the Oireachtas could make a decision about what to do with the organisation. Mr Martin responded to this suggestion saying: "Clearly, the Government does not have as of yet, it seems, a policy response to this."

Mr Kenny later said that changes had taken place in the ODCE since the current director was appointed in 2012, including reorganising its structures and recruiting additional expertise. He said gardaí must now take the lead on all criminal investigations.

Last night, the ODCE released a statement saying that the report requested by Ms Mitchell O'Connor on issues arising from the investigation of the FitzPatrick case is "a matter of the highest priority".

The statement said that due to various directions from the judge, ODCE personnel were excluded from large portions of the trial. As a result the office doesn't have complete information on the proceedings.

It has requested full transcripts in order to facilitate the "expeditious" preparation of the report.

On Tuesday, the agency said it "fully accepts" criticisms that two witnesses in the case were coached by the ODCE.

It also said that the shredding of some documents by lead investigator Kevin O'Connell "should not have occurred" but that this happened at a time when he was "under enormous stress" and against a backdrop of "significant mental health issues".

No restrictions were subsequently placed on his access to evidence, but Mr O'Connell told the court he "self-restricted" himself.

Mr O'Connell was one of the main prosecution witnesses in Mr FitzPatrick's trial. Gardaí admit they never investigated Mr O'Connell over the destruction of the documents.

Irish Independent

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