Thursday 19 September 2019

Staff with no training took statements in probe into Anglo's FitzPatrick

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

Pressure on resources during the investigation by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) into former Anglo chairman Sean FitzPatrick led to staff with no training taking witness statements.

In May 2017, the trial into the ex-Anglo Irish Bank chairman collapsed. Mr FitzPatrick was accused and then acquitted of allegedly misleading the bank's auditors about millions of euro in loans between 2002 and 2007.

Justice John Aylmer found shortcomings in the investigation including coaching of witnesses, shredding of documents and a partisan approach to the investigation.

The ODCE undertook to complete an investigation into how the probe was handled but on legal advice that report cannot be published.

An account of the shortcomings identified by the judge is to be brought to Cabinet today by Business Minister Heather Humphreys, who will also bring legislation that will establish the ODCE as an independent statutory agency, which will be known as the Corporate Enforcement Agency.

The report finds the investigation was unprecedented and that it is clear the office at that time - between 2008 and 2012 - was "not equipped to undertake multiple, complex investigations in parallel".

Among the most significant deficits was a lack of specialised in-house expertise, including in forensic IT and accountancy; 13 new staff members have since been added to the compliment of staff in the ODCE.

The shortcomings in relation to the taking of statements and a failure to presume innocence as well as guilt "occurred against a backdrop of the office running other complex investigations which absorbed resources, and critically, Garda resources to a greater extent that had initially been anticipated", the account notes.

This led to a small number of civilian staff in the ODCE taking the lead role in obtaining witness statements, none of whom had training or experience in taking statements.

Judge Aylmer noted that the coaching and contamination of witness evidence was "the most damaging of the failures to a fair trial" but noted that "this was not done in an intentional or premeditated way".

Specialist training by gardaí has since been provided to ODCE staff, although all criminal investigations are now led by gardaí assigned to the ODCE. The account of the report notes the ODCE operates in a very different way to the way in which it did at the time of the investigation.

Irish Independent

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