Business integrity - Reputation needs to be restored

CORPORATE Ireland’s reputation was done a great disservice yesterday when DCC executive chairman Jim Flavin was allowed to present a briefing on that company’s results.

By his presence he indicated that sections of Irish business culture are informed by values that will do nothing to encourage investors.

By his presence he showed that the white-collar wrongdoing, institutionalised corporate advantage and greed we would prefer to see ascribed to a banana republic, must be acknowledged in our own society.

Mr Flavin, as the Supreme Court confirmed last July, was at the centre of a multi-million-euro insider trading scandal, in 2000, which involved the disposal of shares in Fyffes when he became aware that the share price was likely to fall because of a change in performance expectations. The sale generated a profit of €85 million.

DCC, which is involved in businesses ranging from healthcare to energy, sold the shares when the directors of Fyffes acquiesced with Mr Flavin in the sale but neglected to issue a profit warning to alert prospective buyers that there was bad news on the way about Fyffes’ performance.

They got out while the going was good, giving a hospital pass to anyone unfortunate enough to buy the soon-to-be diminished shares. They used their insider knowledge to avoid losses and put innocent investors in jeopardy.

They did it with the knowledge that it was unlikely that the gardaí or the Criminal Assets Bureau would swoop in a dawn raid waking the neighbours; safe in the knowledge that the application of Irish justice recognises demarcation lines in the types of misdemeanour committed by different types of people.

For the grimy, brutal ones you do time. For the suave, pillar-of-society dodges you bluster all the way to the Supreme Court and, if you are eventually nailed, compensate injured parties to get out of a tight corner.

You definitely don’t do time.

The director of corporate enforcement Paul Appleby may take disqualification orders following the settlement of the action.

Disqualification orders, made under section 160 of the Companies Act, restrain a person for a specified time from involvement in the management of any company on grounds of unfitness.

Mr Appleby has expressed “acute concern” about insider dealing and credible corporate governance. He has said, in an affidavit to the Supreme Court, he would be concerned “if any persons who actively participated in insider dealing transactions should be able to continue to discharge leading roles in Irish corporate affairs”.

DCC has promised a comprehensive statement on the whole affair but it is difficult to imagine that it has a wide range of options, neither has it the luxury of deferring that statement for much longer.

This country’s reputation as a safe and ethical place to do business is paramount to everyone in this society and whatever needs to be done to restore that reputation must be done.

If nothing is done we will have another category to add to our fabled Golden Circle of business people — inaction will confirm that some of our business leaders are, in fact, untouchables.


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