Sunday 18 February 2018

There's never been a better time for white-collar crime, warns lawyer

Remy Farrell SC addressing the Bar of Ireland Conference in Westport. Picture: Conor McKeown
Remy Farrell SC addressing the Bar of Ireland Conference in Westport. Picture: Conor McKeown

Dearbhail McDonald, Legal Editor

NOW is the "perfect time" to fiddle your VAT or commit white-collar crime because of "endemic" under resourcing of gardai and regulatory bodies, the Government has been warned.

But Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said that it may not be possible to give extra resources to bodies such as the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) and the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation (GBFI) until Ireland has "an economy that is sufficiently strong" to deal with competing claims by various agencies for extra money and staff.

Mr Kenny was responding to claims by one of the country's leading regulatory lawyers that a "scandalous" amount of crimes – including corporate and VAT frauds as well as computer-based child pornography offences – are not being investigated and prosecuted because of a lack of resources.

Senior Counsel Remy Farrell, speaking at the Bar Council's biennial conference, said that the GBFI has been "swamped with a deluge" of reports of suspected frauds following the introduction of new laws which make it a criminal offence not to report fraud and white-collar offences.

But only a tiny proportion of those reports – less than one in 10 – can be read by gardai, let alone prosecuted.

Mr Farrell cited problems with a separate, three-year delay at the gardai's Computer Crime Investigation Unit (CCIU).

"So if you're going to commit an elaborate fraud, remember to password lock your computer – that should buy you a few years," Mr Farrell told delegates.

Chairing part of the conference, Supreme Court Judge Frank Clarke said he suspected the problem in regulation is "governed by the politics of the last regulatory disaster", a view supported by Mr Farrell who said offences are not being detected and prosecuted because regulatory prosecution is approached on a crisis management basis.

It has emerged that a case against a man accused of possessing hardcore child pornography collapsed late last year because of backlog at the CCIU. The case did not proceed because of a three-year delay between the seizing of the man's computer and prosecution, a delay the judge said was extreme, inexcusable and inordinate – and raised the risk of an unfair trial.

The ODCE is also struggling with just one accountant, compared to 48 in-house lawyers at NAMA, said Mr Farrell.

Last week the Director of Corporate Enforcement, Ian Drennan, appealed in his first annual report for five new forensic accountants.

The company law enforcer, whose office has been strained by the "resource intensive" six-year investigation into activities at the former Anglo Irish Bank and other financial institutions, currently has only one accountant.

"This would make the tin pot dictator of a banana republic blush," said Mr Farrell.

Irish Independent

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