Seán FitzPatrick Trial: Failure to tackle white-collar crime is ‘demoralising’

The Sean FitzPatrick judgment highlights the “difficulties and challenges” in investigating and prosecuting white-collar crime, according to a legal expert.

Professor Shane Kilcommins of the School of Law at the University of Limerick said there was a “fragmented” approach by a myriad of state agencies in tackling this type of crime.

He said there was no centralised governance and “no unifying strategy” as well as sparse “accountability structure”.

Despite the challenges of tackling white collar crime, Prof Kilcommins warned that failure to do so would have a ‘demoralising effect’ on society and potentially “make a mockery of the notion of equality for all citizens before the law”.

The Dublin Circuit Criminal Court directed the jury to acquit MrFitzPatrick — who was charged with misleading Anglo Irish Bank auditors about millions of euro in loans.

Judge John Aylmer said he was making his ruling because of real concerns that the defendant was being denied his constitutional right to a fair trial.

He said the investigation by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement was flawed by witness coaching, contamination of witness statements and shredding of evidence. Prof Kilcommins said, on one hand, the judgement reflected the need in Ireland’s criminal process to ensure the quality and integrity of information emanating from an investigation.

As well as accuracy, this was to protect individual freedoms, basic fairness and check abuses of power.

“When these safeguards are breached, it is difficult, if not impossible, to stand over the integrity of the investigation process,” he said.

He added: “More broadly, the judgement also, to some extent, reveals the difficulties and challenges posed in investigating and prosecuting alleged white collar offences.”

He said this is for a number of reasons.

“To begin with, the line between poor business decisionmaking and criminal activity is far from clear- cut. It is also the case that proof is difficult in these cases, and often resource intensive.”

He said white-collar crime was difficult to detect “because it often occurs in private, behind closed corporate doors”.

He said another difficulty was the “expansion in agencies” with the power to investigate white-collar crime and to bring prosecutions.

“They have increased dramatically in Ireland in recent years,” he said.

“They include: the Revenue Commissioners, the Competition Authority, the Director of Consumer Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Health and Safety Authority and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

“This enlargement in scope, however, is fragmented in nature, occupying diverse sites and modes of operation.”

He said there was no centralised governance and no unifying strategy.

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