New ‘more powerful’ corporate watchdog

The Government has pledged a new, more powerful, standalone corporate governance agency will scrutinise business and be better equipped to probe any breaches of company law.

A three-member commission, with its own staff separate from departments and advised by gardaí, will be set up to replace the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

It is unclear if the ODCE’s current director, Ian Drennan, will remain at the helm of the new agency with the existing staff.

The ODCE came in for criticism after the collapse of the trial of former Anglo banker Seán FitzPatrick earlier this year. A report by the ODCE on its handling of the case for the Government has yet to be published, despite being presented months ago.

Tánaiste and Jobs Minister Frances Fitzgerald yesterday said the attorney general was still advising on whether the report, believed to address where there were problems with the Anglo case, would be published. She said it is a complex issue that involves the “rights of people”.

It is unclear how exactly the new corporate probing agency will differ from the ODCE. Ms Fitzgerald said, after the Anglo trial collapse, that the ODCE was “not fit for purpose”.

She said the usual open advertising rules would apply for the new agency, but would not say if the same ODCE director would run it or not.

Separate Government sources say Mr Drennan is expected to remain as director of the new bureau.

Ms Fitzgerald also said the new agency would act in a similar manner to the current Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.

The Social Democrats, a party which has continuously called for an independent, anti-corruption agency to be established, welcomed the developments.

In a statement, it said: “We simply can’t afford to see any repeat of the bungling that led to the recent collapse of the trial of the former Anglo banker Seán FitzPatrick. It’s just a pity that this reform is only now being mooted, nine years after our banks collapsed and it was already apparent that the ODCE didn’t have the necessary powers and resources to cope with the fallout.”

Elsewhere, the Government announced the setting up of a new Garda-led joint agency taskforce to tackle white-collar crime. This will initially focus on tackling payment fraud and credit-card fraud.

In total, 28 actions or measures were launched by four departments and ministers spearheading the reforms.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said his reforms would see shorter trial spans, more efficient caseloads for jurors, and more use of video-links in courts.

There will also be new corruption legislation to target wrongful trading or insider trading.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe also said there would be stricter rules for the directors of companies reporting, while there will also be a new anti-money-laundering plan.



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