Tuesday 13 November 2018

White-collar crimes 'should be tackled by new CAB-style agency', report urges

Stock photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Stock photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The State will get a new agency, similar to the Criminal Assets Bureau, to investigate white-collar crime if new law reform proposals are accepted by the Government.

The move would likely involve the replacement or a significant overhaul of the Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), which has shipped considerable criticism over its bungled handling of the prosecution of former Anglo Irish Bank chairman Seán FitzPatrick.

The establishment of a Corporate Crime Agency is one of several measures called for in a new report published today by the Law Reform Commission. It said significant reforms had been enacted since the financial crisis in 2008, but further measures were now required.

Other proposals made by the commission include setting up a dedicated unit in the Office of the DPP for white-collar crime prosecutions.

The 878-page report also says increased powers should be handed to financial regulators, giving them the ability to impose significant financial sanctions and to make regulatory enforcement agreements, which should include consumer redress schemes.

Companies could face fines of up to €10m and/or 10pc of their turnover, while the maximum sanction for individuals would be €1m.

Altogether, the report makes more than 200 recommendations for further reform on regulatory powers and corporate offences, but the recommendation regarding a new Corporate Crime Agency is the most eye-catching.

It comes just a year after similar proposals were brought forward by officials at the Department of Justice and Department of Business.

In its report, the Law Reform Commission said it was clear the ODCE was not sufficiently resourced to address complex criminal trial processes.

It recommended a Corporate Crime Agency be established "without undue delay" on a statutory basis. The report said it should comprise multi- disciplinary personnel similar, though not identical, to the model used for setting up the Criminal Assets Bureau.

The new agency would have powers to investigate corporate criminal offences without first receiving a referral from a financial regulator.

This would mean it would not have to wait for referrals from the Central Bank or the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission before launching an inquiry.

The commission proposed that a new dedicated prosecution unit for corporate offences at the Office of the DPP would work in close liaison with the proposed agency to ensure the most efficient processes are in place to prepare prosecutions.

The commission also recommended "in light of experience" that the prosecution unit "must be sufficiently resourced to carry out its functions".

The report acknowledged that existing laws had resulted in a number of significant convictions that related to the actions of senior bank executives in the lead-up to the banking crash.

However, it said existing fraud offences should be amended in order to address egregiously reckless risk-taking in financial institutions.

This would mean that conscious recklessness by a person would amount to fraud under, for example, the offence of false accounting.

The report also said recommendations on corporate offences would clarify the circumstances in which a corporate body could be held criminally liable for systemic failures by its senior executives.

Irish Independent

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