Belfast Telegraph

Crackdown on white collar crime pledged in wake of Anglo Irish Bank inquiries

White collar criminals will be blitzed with new laws and a beefed up corporate watchdog in the wake of criticisms over the handling of inquiries into the defunct Anglo Irish Bank.

In one of the most significant changes the Government will turn the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) into a standalone agency headed by a commissioner with the power to recruit and enlist experts.

Altogether 28 initiatives are planned, with deadlines, and among them is a new garda-led taskforce which will run a pilot investigation into payment fraud, including invoice redirection and credit card fraud.

Elsewhere, anti-corruption law will be modernised and parts of the criminal justice system streamlined to improve efficiency of trials.

Laws protecting whistleblowers will also be reviewed

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said cracking down on fraud is a national priority for him.

" Like a lot of people, I am frustrated at our inability as a country to secure more convictions when it comes to corruption and white collar crime," he said.

"Corruption and white collar crime damage our economy, breed cynicism in our society and are a threat to our international reputation."

Mr Varadkar added: "We cannot change the past but we can change things for the future. This is a whole of Government effort and a national priority for me as Taoiseach."

Laws to back up the Government's pledges are not expected to be enacted until the middle of 2019.

The report on the issue, Measures to Enhance Ireland's Corporate, Economic and Regulatory Framework, stated that it was crucial to identify and learn from shortcomings in the trials linked to Anglo Irish Bank.

Former Anglo chairman Sean Fitzpatrick was found not guilty of fraud earlier this year after a 126 day trial on charges of "artificially reducing" personal loans for a few weeks around the end of the financial year so their full value was not shown in accounts.

He always denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.

The ODCE, set up in 2001 to crack down on white collar crime, said at the time that it fully accepted the trial judge's criticism of its investigation into the former Anglo chief's loans.

It accepted witnesses were coached when giving statements during the investigation and that their evidence was contaminated.

Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said the Government's plan will not see white-collar criminals losing any sleep.

"I can only presume it's meant to be some sort of response to the tracker mortgage scandal but there is nothing in the plan that would make any of the bankers responsible for the scandal any more accountable," he said.

Mr Doherty said the issue of giving misleading information to the Central Bank is not addressed and class action suits, which are not an option in Ireland, are not mentioned.

"In short, today's plan is a flop. It will not bring about the cultural and legal changes the state needs," Mr Doherty said.

The Government report states that the new beefed-up agency will greater enhance the state's ability to undertake modern, complex corporate law enforcement.

It will operated with a chief commissioner and deputies tasked with overseeing work on specific areas.

Shane Ross, Transport Minister and Independent Alliance member, said: "For many years I have highlighted the need for strong legislation and regulation to ensure that the rule of law applies clearly and fairly in every sector of society.

"The measures introduced today make clear the Government's intent to prevent and prosecute white collar crimes. It is a clear message to those who believe they are above the law."

The Department of Justice has been working on overhauling fraud laws for some time.

New legislation will cover recommendations from the Mahon Tribunal into planning corruption with a new offences of trading in influence by public officials.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said a review has also been ordered into how effective state bodies are at preventing, detecting, investigating and prosecuting fraud and corruption.

"The measures we are introducing today make it abundantly clear that the Government is dedicated to ensuring a robust anti-corruption framework and ensuring the law is sufficiently strong and clear to sanction those who commit these crimes," Mr Flanagan said.

The ODCE said there had been an understandable diminution of confidence in its work.

But it noted that the serious failings in the Anglo investigation occurred in one of five inquiries related to the bank. It said two cases led to convictions and a third led to an indictment.

The ODCE said it filed a report to Government on the Anglo issues in June and that " valuable and necessary lessons" should be learned from it.

It said the Government proposals are an important step towards restoring public confidence to tackling corruption and fraud.

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