New powers for State’s corporate watchdog

The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) will be bolstered rather than disbanded in plans to be announced this week.

It was reported yesterday that the ODCE, the State’s corporate compliance watchdog, was to be effectively disbanded when the tougher powers to tackle white-collar crime are revealed on Thursday.

However, while the ODCE will see its remit altered from its current position, suggestions that it is to be broken up were described as “inaccurate”.

The ODCE was severely criticised for its role in bringing the failed prosecution of former Anglo Irish Bank chairman Seán FitzPatrick.

On Thursday, in plans requested by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, banks and other financial institutions will be subject to much stricter oversight.

The Irish Examiner understands that Mr Varadkar sent a letter to Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan after taking office, demanding a new range of powers to allow the State deal effectively and quickly with corruption cases and white-collar crime.

Mr Varadkar wanted new measures to include a granting of immunity to those found to have committed corrupt acts if they were prepared to become whistleblowers against bigger players in the crime.

Such a move is commonplace in other countries but absent here.

Mr Varadkar also proposed that new units in the Garda and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions that would be dedicated to investigating corporate crime.

Mr Varadkar also proposed that evidence rules be changed including that computer records be permitted for use as evidence.

At least some of these measures will be incorporated into the package but the proposed changes to An Garda Síochána will not be introduced as a result of separate reforms being conducted in the force.

A joint initiative involving four Government departments and will be launched by Ms Fitzgerald on Thursday. The departments of finance, justice, and the Taoiseach are also involved.

Under the plan, the ODCE, will effectively be turned into a beefed-up new white-collar criminal investigation agency.

The new powers for ODCE were inevitable once it was found to be not fit for purpose given the result in the Fitzpatrick trial, where gaping failures in the office were exposed.

The ODCE was severely criticised by the trial judge for producing evidence that fell far short of its duty.

Ms Fitzgerald later described it as “not fit for purpose” and an internal government review conducted after the debacle recommended its replacement.

The announcement comes as the Government has approved the Companies (Statutory Audits) Bill 2017, which will see much tougher reporting standards adopted once enacted next year.

The bill moves to enhance the powers of the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority to “ensure effective monitoring and enforcement of the new rules”.

The measures to be announced will include two new bills which will allow for quicker and more effective prosecutions in bribery and corruption cases.

It is understood there will also be a civil bill aimed at strengthening the oversight and governance of corporations and executives.

The main legislative element will be the Criminal Justice (Corruption) Bill 2017 which widens the definition of corrupt acts and bribery in the public sector.

Passive acts, including knowingly ignoring a bribe as well as bribing foreign officials will become identifiable acts of crime. A second piece of legislation, the Criminal Procedure Bill, will help to speed up the legal process for corruption cases.

Editorial: 10


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