Tuesday 20 August 2019

ODCE begins legal proceedings in connection with FAI

Former chief executive John Delaney (centre) and Donal Conway ahead of Oireachtas hearing
Former chief executive John Delaney (centre) and Donal Conway ahead of Oireachtas hearing

Shane Phelan and Aodhan O Faolain

LEGAL proceedings have been initiated by the corporate watchdog in connection with matters at the FAI.

The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) wants the High Court to determine if documents given to it by the football association contains privileged legal material.

The move by the ODCE comes in the wake of weeks of controversy over the football association’s finances and a €100,000 loan given to it by its former chief executive John Delaney in 2017.

Mr Delaney has stepped aside from his role as executive vice chairman of the FAI while an independent investigation is ongoing, while honorary secretary Michael Cody and honorary treasurer Eddie Murray both voluntarily resigned from the FAI board last month.

But the initiation of High Court proceedings by the ODCE represents a serious escalation of matters. 

The proceedings were started yesterday when a solicitor for the ODCE filed an affidavit in the High Court. The purpose of the proceedings was not immediately disclosed.

However, matters became clearer when lawyers for the ODCE appeared before Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds this morning.

They said the application, made under the Companies Act 2014, related to certain material sought from the FAI by the ODCE, which was supplied by the association earlier this week.

Lawyers said the application relates to "potentially legally privileged material".

In a sworn statement to the court, the ODCE said on April 19 last it issued a notification requiring the FAI to hand over copies of books and documents.

The documents sought include the minutes of all meetings of the FAI board and committees of the board for the period January 1, 2016 to March 21, 2019 inclusive.

On Wednesday, May 1 the FAI produced the required documentation.

But it also placed several documents in a separate container, which the association seeks to claim privilege over. 

The ODCE now wants the High Court to determine if this material is privileged legal material or not.

The integrity of that allegedly privileged material supplied by the association has been maintained, the ODCE said in its sworn statement.  

The FAI was informed that the ODCE intended to make the application to the court, the ODCE added.

As part of the application, the ODCE will seek to have a legally qualified person examine the material and prepare a report for the court.   

Ms Justice Reynolds granted the ODCE permission to serve short notice of the application asking the court to make a ruling in respect of the material against the FAI. 

The judge adjourned the matter, which will be next mentioned before the court on Tuesday.

A spokesman for the FAI said: "The FAI is aware of the ODCE application and acknowledges this is part of their ongoing process. The FAI continues to co-operate fully with the ODCE."

A spokesman for the ODCE said he was not in a position to comment at this stage.

Under the Companies Act, the ODCE has considerable powers to investigate corporate governance issues, up to and including seeking the appointment of High Court inspectors.

The ODCE received a number of complaints in relation to the FAI’s finances following revelations of the €100,000 “bridging loan”, which the association said was required to aid cash flow.

The transaction took place in April 2017 and the money was repaid to Mr Delaney in full that June.

He declined to answer questions in relation to the transaction when he appeared before an Oireachtas committee last month, citing legal advice.

Only three members of the FAI board, including Mr Delaney, knew about the “loan” at the time it was made.

Remaining board members were only informed on March 4 this year, after a media query had been submitted to the association.

Sport Ireland was also not notified of the cash flow problems.

A transcript of the committee hearing was examined by the ODCE.

At the committee hearing, FAI president Donal Conway confirmed it was dealing with inquiries from the ODCE.

In correspondence to the committee, Sport Ireland said it understood the engagement between the FAI and the ODCE was "substantial".

Sport Ireland suspended its funding of the FAI last month, saying it would only consider reinstating it once all ongoing reports commissioned by the association have been completed and the recommendations adopted.

In a letter to Sport Ireland last month, Mr Conway said the loan was not disclosed "arising from an omission in the completion of our 2017 accounts".

He said the FAI had written to the ODCE's director Ian Drennan "notifying him appropriately" and giving assurances processes were being reviewed to ensure such omissions do not occur in future.

Following the loan revelations, Mr Delaney stepped down as chief executive to take up a newly created role of executive vice president with responsibility for dealing with UEFA and FIFA.

But he soon stepped aside from this role pending the outcome of an independent investigation commissioned by the FAI.

Online Editors

The Throw-In: Tipp throw off the shackles while Kilkenny’s soul-searching begins

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport