The referral by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan to Gsoc of the so-called Cabra account comes at a time when the watchdog is struggling with a significantly increased workload and ongoing vacancies.
Given Gsoc has not conducted a fraud investigation before, it is thought that the body will have to hire, or second, forensic accountants to assist.
And sources indicate that the ombudsman may even have to consider leading a multi-agency investigation and seek the expertise of other state agencies — including possibly Revenue or the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement — given the likelihood that revenue or corporate law offences may also arise.
Commissioner O’Sullivan told the Public Accounts Committee on Tuesday that she had received a report from the Garda internal auditor Niall Kelly on Monday in which he said he had sufficient suspicions that fraud may have been carried out in relation to a garda bank account located in Cabra, north Dublin.
Pac heard that EU police training funding had gone into an account in Templemore Garda College but that some of it was diverted into the Cabra account, which opened in 1999 and closed in 2010.
The commissioner told members that it appeared to be a garda, rather than a personal, account and that the signatories were now retired gardaí, including a former senior officer.
Theunderstands the report sent by the commissioner is quite short and lacks detail.
It is thought Gsoc is seeking clarity from An Garda Síochána in relation to the “scale and scope” of the investigation.
Fraud investigations are typically complicated and drawn-out inquiries and necessitate specific skills, sources have explained, including having a forensic accountant to identify and track movements of money.
“This needs resources, no doubt,” said one source knowledgeable with fraud investigations.
The other issue for Gsoc is that they are already struggling with an increased workload and expanded responsibilities.
Their 2016 annual report, published this month, showed they already had 10 vacancies and that they had sought additional resources above and beyond their staffing sanction from the Department of Justice in order to conduct complex protected disclosure or whistleblower investigations.
Gsoc has 11 such cases on its plate — four from 2014 and 2015 and seven in 2016 — and it said it expected the trend to continue.
In addition, it has an estimated 27 public interest investigations ongoing — including 15 from the Independent Review Mechanism referred to it by the former Minister for Justice.
Many public interest investigations are extremely complex and time-consuming. They include a much-troubled probe into penalty points, which completed an initial phase in 2014.