The senior garda detective who was in charge of the Anglo-Irish investigation for 18 months took early retirement at the end of last year and is now working with Bank of Ireland, it has emerged.
Former detective superintendent Pat Collins, 52, was regarded as the Garda's top expert in corporate fraud investigation. He spent much of his career in the Fraud Squad and before taking charge of the Anglo investigation he spent time on secondment with the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement working with its director, Paul Appleby.
Former colleagues say his departure -- on full pension after having served 30 years in the force -- will be a major blow to the investigation.
Mr Collins has taken up a post as head of fraud and anti-money laundering at Bank of Ireland's Group Security Department, the bank confirmed last week. It would give no more details of his terms of employment.
But Mr Collins would have received a retirement package including a lump sum of two years' annual salary -- around €150,000 for an officer of superintendent rank -- and a pension of half his last year's salary, index-linked on top of his new salary.
His departure along with the head of the Garda National Fraud Bureau, former chief superintendent Martin McLoughlin, has left the bureau without senior management as it pursues the biggest investigation in its history (Anglo). It was not clear yesterday how the departures will affect the investigation.
However, this month the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) indicated that the investigation, which it had hoped would finish early this year, may run into its fourth year.
The ODCE said on January 6 that the investigation still has "months" to run. It said it still has "two strands" to investigate but did not indicate what this entailed. The Garda Fraud Bureau and ODCE have sent three very large files to the Director of Public Prosecutions but more is still to come before the DPP can make a decision on whether or not to bring charges.
The investigation is under further pressure given that the High Court indicated on a number of occasions last year that it was running out of patience with the repeated requests by investigators for more and more time to examine the millions of emails and phone calls taken from Anglo.
The High Court gave until the end of this month to complete the investigation.
The wind-down of Anglo, now re-named the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, is costing the tax payer an estimated €30bn, having precipitated the biggest financial collapse in the history of the State.
Despite assurances by this and the previous Government that the garda investigation would receive all resources necessary, the core of the work has been carried out by a small group of detectives and experts from the ODCE. However, former detective superintendent Collins was regarded as the key lead investigator.
He left the gardai in December and took up his new role at the start of the year. It is not unusual for senior retiring gardai to take up positions with financial organisations but he is regarded as the single most qualified in the area of corporate fraud.
There is currently a large number of vacancies in senior ranks in the Garda Siochana caused largely by the early retirements of senior figures.
There are four vacancies at assistant commissioner level, 15 at chief superintendent level and at least twice this number at superintendent level.
Many of the "specialist" sections, particularly those involving serious crime, have lost experienced senior officers in the past year. Promotions to fill the vacancies are also being held up because of the tightened garda budget.