Setting up a specialist division to tackle white- collar crime would be an “enormous” task and an “extraordinary challenge”, the office responsible for monitoring corporate compliance has said, writes Pádraig Hoare.
The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) was responding after the Central Bank said this week it would support the setting up of a specialist division in light of “understandable public concern” around white-collar crime and the banking crash.
The Central Bank had issued its views following the publication of paper by the Law Reform Commission on regulatory enforcement and corporate offences, which said a dedicated unit would allow for more effective investigation and prosecution of white-collar offences.
The Central Bank declined to say what role the ODCE would have in any new unit but did say co-operation between various agencies would be welcome.
However, the ODCE said that while it would be “generally supportive” of any measures to more effectively tackle white collar crime, it was “difficult to offer a definitive view” of what the Central Bank envisaged.
It said there already existed a number of statutory bodies with the power to conduct criminal investigations into white collar crime, including the Central Bank itself.
An ODCE statement said: “The centralisation of some or all aspects of the investigation of white-collar crime into a single body or unit would require the transfer of very significant responsibilities from a wide range of bodies.
“Given the breadth and complexity of the various legislative codes involved, the remit of any resulting entity would be enormous. Consequently, maintaining the levels of specialist knowledge required to effectively investigate and enforce each aspect of such a broad remit would present an extraordinary challenge for a single investigative agency.”
The ODCE said setting up such a division could be very costly.
“The programme required to amend the various codes of legislation would be likely to be both complex and highly resource intensive and as such would likely require a significant cost-benefit analysis,” it said.
Before “more radical proposals for reform in the area of white-collar crime are adopted”, the ODCE said, “there must first be an understanding of what that term potentially encompasses and of the potential implications of such proposals”.
It said: “The term white collar crime would generally be understood to include criminal offences under a range of legislative codes including for example the companies acts, the taxes acts, criminal justice legislation on theft and fraud, anti-money laundering legislation, competition law, financial services legislation — including, amongst others, the Central Bank and insurance acts as well as legislation relating to regulated securities markets — and legislation relating to bribery and corruption.”
On a broader interpretation, the ODCE said the term white-collar crime extends to health and safety law and to legislation governing standards in public office.
It said the prosecution of serious offences could only be initiated by the Director of Public Prosecutions
“Thus responsibility for prosecution of serious crime — including white-collar crime — already resides in a single body.”