Witnesses must give evidence or face prison
KEY potential witnesses who refuse to make statements to gardai investigating serious suspected crimes such as the Anglo Irish Bank affair will face jail.
The move is part of a radical government proposal to strengthen garda powers to tackle white-collar crime.
It follows consultations between Justice Minister Dermot Ahern and the outgoing Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy late last year.
Gardai believe there has been reluctance by potential witnesses to make statements assisting them in major investigations, such as the Anglo case.
In the Anglo inquiries, former chief executive David Drumm has declined to return from his new home in the US to be interviewed by the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation while another senior official has given what gardai say is limited co-operation as a witness.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern is proposing a statutory obligation on potential witnesses to make a statement.
This new power will apply only to arrestable offences, which carry a punishment of at least five years' imprisonment.
The minister also intends to use the legislation to clear up existing doubts about whether a section of the Offences Against the State Act, making it an offence to withhold information in relation to certain serious offences, applies to white-collar crimes.
The new legislation, due to be published by the minister early in the new year, will apply that power to all arrestable offences.
It is also intended to place a legal obligation on banks and other institutions to provide a proper index and certification for material being handed over for use as evidence in court.
In recent investigations, such as the Anglo case, large numbers of documents have been provided to gardai without any effort to index the material or to certify it, to make the material admissible in court as evidence without the need for witnesses to prove them.
According to gardai and senior justice officials, the volume of documentation has been a source of considerable delay.
The Anglo investigation involved more than 100,000 documents, computer files and electronic transactions and 350 witness statements, including one covering 150 pages.
Shortly before Christmas, the gardai sent a file on the "back to back" loans totalling €7.45bn, between Anglo and Irish Life and Permanent, to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The gardai have recommended criminal charges against four suspects in relation to the loans.
The file also deals with the so-called Maple Ten group after the dispersal of shares owned by the Quinn group.