Criminal trials to follow Anglo inquiry could take three years

Wed, Jul 25, 2012, 01:00

HIGH COURT:THE HIGH Court has been told it could take three years to complete criminal trials arising from the 3½-year inquiry by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) into the 2008 collapse of the former Anglo Irish Bank.

That inquiry is essentially complete in four of its five areas, with several files sent on dates from late 2010 to July 10th last being considered by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the court also heard.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly yesterday repeated his view the inquiry was taking “longer than desirable” when agreeing to extend for six months orders allowing retention of documents seized from the bank for the purpose of the inquiry.

He refused the DPP’s application to extend the orders until the criminal cases had concluded on grounds he wanted to keep progress in all areas of the inquiry under review, “as it seems activity takes place just before review”.

If he extended the orders for the longer period sought, progress may not be as expeditious as hoped, Mr Justice Kelly added.

The ODCE had applied for an extension of up to three years arising from circumstances including that former Anglo chief executive Seán FitzPatrick and two other former Anglo executives – Willie McAteer and Pat Whelan – were charged this week arising from completion of aspects of the inquiry.

Paul O’Higgins SC, for the ODCE, said because of those charges, it was considered necessary to seek orders retaining the material until after the criminal trials had concluded, not just a further six months (as sought in the ODCE application of July 17th).

Shane Murphy SC, for the bank, said it was not objecting to that and it was believed it would take two to three years to deal with the trials.

Una Ní Raifeartaigh SC, for the DPP, said the DPP had taken the view there was enough evidence to have brought these charges. They represented the culmination of a long and complex examination and there had to be a balance between getting matters to court and “getting it right”, she said.

The judge said he would extend the inquiry for a further six months, to January 17th, 2013, in circumstances where he had observed it was taking a very long time and where developments appeared to happen on the eve of reviews by the High Court of progress in the inquiry.

Mr Justice Kelly noted three people had been charged just this week and, as the court was previously reviewing matters last January, the DPP had indicated she was changing her view that no persons would be charged until the inquiry was complete. There seemed to be “a pattern” that things happened the day before court hearings, he said.

This was the ninth application to the court for an extension of the document seizure orders, he said. While he had previously noted the inquiry was complex with difficulties including reluctant witnesses, he was still of the view it was taking longer than was desirable.

The court was told the investigations into two of the five strands were complete. These related to whether there was assistance provided by Anglo to others to buy its shares, in possible breach of section 60 of the Companies Act, and a loan to an executive director in late September 2008, in possible breach of common law and the Companies Act.

The inquiry into the other strands is continuing.