White-collar criminals to face full force of law
TOUGH legislation to crack down on white-collar crime is on the way -- irrespective of which parties form the next government.
Measures, which would give gardai more time to question suspects and take action against key witnesses refusing to make statements, were approved last week by the Cabinet.
But the new legislation was put on hold following the dissolution of the Dail.
Now the three main parties have signalled they will prioritise legislation to combat fraud and other financial crimes, if they are in power.
Many of the measures being proposed are designed to deal with complex garda inquiries such as the current investigation into irregularities at Anglo Irish Bank.
A number of the key points in the proposed legislation are taken from a submission lodged last year by former Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy at the request of then Justice Minister Dermot Ahern.
It recommends the introduction of police bail, which would allow a suspect to be released after questioning but given a fixed date to return for further interview.
Conditions could also be imposed on the bail to ensure that a suspect could not leave the country until further questioning had been completed.
At the moment gardai have up to seven days to interrogate suspects for drugs or terrorism crime but only 24 hours for white collar offences.
Gardai believe it is impossible for officers involved in detailed inquiries like Anglo to put all of the allegations under investigation to a suspect within such a short timeframe.
Officers were also concerned at the reluctance of potential witnesses to make statements assisting them in major investigations, such as the Anglo case.
In the Anglo inquiries, former chief executive David Drumm declined to return from his new home in the US to be interviewed by the garda fraud bureau while another senior official has given what is regarded as limited co-operation as a witness.
Now Fianna Fail has promised that the bill will be introduced in the new Dail if it is returned to power.
Labour's justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte said last night that measures such as police bail might have to be introduced, although governed by certain controls.
"It's remarkable on the doorsteps to see so many people who don't believe the politicians are serious about dealing with white-collar crime," he said.
Fine Gael's finance spokesman Michael Noonan said his party would ensure rogue bankers were pursued and the full rigours of the law applied to them. The courts would also have the powers necessary to impose appropriate fines and jail terms.
"We will enact a new, consolidated and reformed anti-corruption law to punish white-collar crime and end the impunity from consequences for corporate behaviour that has threatened the economy," he added.
He also promised sufficent resources for the Director of Corporate Enforcement to tackle such crime and stronger regulation of financial institutions.