| 10.6°C Dublin

Probe into bank chiefs will go on 'for years'

TWO years on, almost €2m spent, no convictions and no end in sight -- the State's criminal investigation into the banking system is set to run and run.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan has repeatedly expressed his desire for a rapid conclusion, but a spokesman for the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) Paul Appleby said this weekend: "It is a matter of years, not months" before the investigation will be finished.

One third of the ODCE's staff is now involved in the investigation into Anglo Irish Bank. The cost over the past two years has come in at just under €2m.

It has also emerged that in 2009 alone, in addition to the €2m spend on staff involved with the case, the ODCE spent €2.3m on legal and consultancy fees.

The investigation began in January 2009, when Mr Appleby's office demanded books and documents from Anglo. However, the investigators were hampered during the summer when Anglo bosses claimed privilege over certain documents.

A large number of people and organisations were co-operating and the gardai working in Mr Appleby's office were pleased with the progress of the probe, he said. He rejected suggestions that it was taking too long.

"When you are dealing with millions of documents, getting them evaluated inevitably takes time,'' said his spokesman this weekend.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, he said: "We are happy with the progress that is being made. It was always going to be a matter of years and not months with this.

"It is the most complex investigation in the history of the State and that means it will take time."

He added that it is the ODCE's intention to deliver a file to the Director of Public Prosecution and it will then be the DPP's call on whether or not to bring charges.

"I can't give an estimate of when that will be. It would be unwise to give a time and then not stick to it," he said.

There are three issues currently under investigation.

• The movement of €87m of directors' loans by former chairman Sean FitzPatrick between Anglo and Irish Nationwide before the year ends over an eight-year period. These movements were not disclosed to shareholders. • The sale of a stake in Anglo, owned by Sean Quinn and his family, to a so-called 'golden circle'' of 10 investors, using loans provided by Anglo. • The 'back-to-back' deposit deal between Anglo and Irish Life & Permanent (IL&P), which took place in 2008 and may have flattered the Anglo balance sheet.

Mr Appleby was not prepared to comment on criticism that the investigation should be progressing much faster.

It has also emerged that another investigation into the banking crisis -- The Banking Commission of Investigation, headed by Mr Peter Nyberg -- which will hold hearings in private, will not 'name names' in its final report.

According to the Department of Finance, the commission's decision not to identify those at the centre of the banking collapse was taken because it does not want to prejudice any criminal investigation that might arise.

Sunday Independent