Belfast Telegraph

Enda Kenny makes Anglo Irish Bank probe powers pledge

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has vowed to give a judge the powers he needs to investigate asset sales by the rebranded Anglo Irish Bank.

The commitment was given after Judge Brian Cregan warned that liquidators acting for the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation had claimed confidentiality and privilege on 30,000 documents handed over to the inquiry.

One of the sales being probed is billionaire Denis O'Brien's purchase of Siteserv which involved a writedown of 119 million euro (£84.6 million).

It is understood liquidators Kieran Wallace and Eamon Richardson of KPMG warned that some of the financial information being examined is subject to banker-client privilege, restricting its publication.

Judge Cregan wrote a letter to the Taoiseach last Friday saying he was "not in a position to proceed" with the audit of 38 IBRC deals which involved a write-off.

Following talks with David Cameron in Downing Street, the Taoiseach said he had sought advice from Attorney General Maire Whelan on new laws or powers for a judge heading up a Commission of Investigation.

Mr Kenny said: "The Government are absolutely committed here, in the strongest possible way, to see that this matter is dealt with clearly, transparently and in an absolutely accountable fashion.

"The judge has identified what he considers are a deficiency in his powers. I need to know what that actually means because I intend to address it."

Mr Kenny said the Government was " absolutely committed" to resolving the confidentiality issue " completely and comprehensively in the shortest possible time" with the input of other political parties and leaders.

Mr Kenny said he only found out the investigation had stalled last Thursday. Finance Minister Michael Noonan said the same.

The Taoiseach also expressed confidence in the Attorney General.

Parliamentary questions, led by Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy, were asked for several months over the sale of Siteserv.

Documents released by the Department of Finance - only discovered and released at the same time as the announcement of the inquiry - revealed the sale went through in March 2012 with a debt write-off worth 119 million euro. The figure was previously thought to be about 100 million euro (£71 million).

There have been claims that Siteserv shareholders earned five million euro (£3.5 million) in the deal despite the company being on the verge of going bust, and that the winning bid was not the highest on the table.

It was one of the sales of assets or loans by Anglo to be examined under Judge Cregan's inquiry covering the time from the rogue lender's nationalisation on January 21 2009 until when the liquidation was ordered in February 2013.

It is understood liquidators have warned some of the documents central to the inquiry are regarded as privileged following legal advice and because of potential litigation.

Ms Murphy said she raised questions in the Dail about the inquiry being hamstrung but they were ruled out of order.

In a statement, the Department of Finance insisted it had fully co-operated with the judge-led investigation.

"Core documents held by the department which have been requested by the IBRC Commission of Investigation have been sent," a spokesman said.

"This exercise is ongoing and is expected to be fully completed by this Friday. For the avoidance of doubt, no redactions have been made to any documents provided."

Ms Murphy said the stalling of the inquiry was a fiasco.

"At the outset there was much cynicism in the public domain about how serious Government were in seeking answers and whether or not the commission was being used simply to kick the issues to touch. The revelations over the weekend would certainly seem to support that view," she said.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said the IBRC inquiry was a mess and "entirely consistent" with the Government's handling of the issue.

"Since the first claims emerged about special deals being done by IBRC, the Government has been deeply uncomfortable. At every stage of the process that brought us to this point, they have had to be dragged kicking and screaming," Mr Martin said.

The opposition leader said the breakdown in the investigation sparks very serious questions about why it did not have the necessary powers.

Mr Martin said: "There is also a general unease that something as fundamental as the judge's lack of power to do what he was asked, has only emerged at this late stage."

Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said it was not credible for the Government to claim it only became aware of the issues late last week.

"Only now, when the Government's hand has been forced by the letter from the judge in charge of the inquiry, has the Taoiseach acted to get legal advice," Mr Doherty said.

"Claims that the Government only found out about the legal difficulties last week have no shred of credibility and are completely disingenuous."

Mr Doherty added: "It seems that the lessons have not been learned and, if the Government continues with this attitude, we could end up in the farcical situation where we need to establish an inquiry to find out why the original inquiry was allowed to collapse."

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