Watchdog: Conflicts of interest in IBRC probe

Transparency International, the influential watchdog for public and corporate governance, has added fuel to the political row surrounding the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation by calling on the Government to scrap its current investigation, claiming the conflicts of interest are so glaring as to undermine Ireland’s reputation abroad.

In its first comments on the row, Transparency International Ireland chief executive John Devitt urged Michael Noonan, the finance minister, to remove auditors KPMG from the government review of the sale of Siteserv and other loans by IBRC.

He said the Government should strengthen the powers of the Comptroller and Auditor General to undertake an independent investigation.

It was unfair, Mr Devitt said, for the Government to expect KPMG, the special liquidators to state-owned IBRC, to investigate a number of IBRC loan-sales in recent years because KPMG itself was one of the advisers in the sale of Sitserv by IBRC in 2012. “I’d be quite blunt in saying that the Government seems oblivious to the international damage done in failing to investigate in a thorough way or to use agencies that are at arm’s length from the issues that have to be investigated,” he told the Irish Examiner.

Transparency International is a leading watchdog promoting good governance around the world and presents score cards to the UN, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the Council of Europe on how well Ireland and 160 other nations comply with international treaties.

Its annual country-by-country transparency index is tracked by credit rating agencies and foreign direct investors to help weigh sovereign ratings and creditworthiness of countries and companies.

Opposition politicians have repeatedly said that they have little confidence in the IBRC review.

Separately, the Irish Examiner raised the question with KPMG Ireland whether the international firm’s own global code of conduct, or rule book, would preclude it from participating in the IBRC review.

Updated in 2012 in the wake of the worldwide financial crisis, the rule book says that as part of their responsibilities to clients, KPMG partners must “maintain independence and objectivity and avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest”.

A KPMG spokesman said the firm was unavailable for comment.

The Government says there is no evidence whatsoever of any malpractice by IBRC in any of its transactions but that the review of the liquidated bank is necessary because of the furore. The Government says it would change the law to strengthen the powers of the Comptroller and Auditor General if that was deemed necessary.

A spokesman for the Department of Finance reiterated yesterday the appointment of KPMG to head the investigation was because KPMG as special liquidators to IBRC were in the best position to drive “the review thoroughly and expeditiously, given their access to all books and records of IBRC”.

The Government had also moved to address concerns about perceived conflicts of interest in the review.

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