Corporate watchdog brings 62 charges for company law violations

Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement expects ‘potentially significant’ surge in company failures

Sixty-two criminal charges were brought last year against named individuals arising from investigative work by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE).

That is according to the 2021 annual report for the ODCE, which states that the criminal charges related to alleged fraudulent trading and the furnishing of false information as well as to theft and money laundering, among other things.

According to the director of the ODCE, Ian Drennan, three individuals were convicted, or facts were found to have been proven in respect of 12 offences.

He said that, at year end, four cases, involving some 60 charges remained before the district or circuit courts and one file was with the DPP for consideration as to whether charges should be brought on indictment.

Alongside the prosecutions, a number of large-scale investigations are progressing and one ongoing High Court Inspectorship.

Mr Drennan said his office directed the rectification of directors’ loans infringements to the value of almost €10 million.

The number of forensic accountants employed at the ODCE increased from four to seven last year, with the number of detective gardaí attached to the office doubling to eight.

Looking to the year ahead, Mr Drennan said the prevailing view seems to be that corporate insolvencies have been artificially low in recent years and that, as State supports are withdrawn and temporary legislative provisions unwind, the number of companies entering insolvent liquidation will increase – potentially significantly.

The number of complaints made by members of the public to the regulator last year jumped by a third to 201, including 21 allegations of reckless/fraudulent and insolvent trading and 25 concerning directors’ conduct.

Separately, 51 directors were restricted and 16 were disqualified on foot of undertakings or court orders.

The office spent an additional 16 per cent last year – €5 million, compared with €4.3 million in 2020. A large factor was the 65 per cent rise in legal expenses to €1.64 million.

A note attached to the accounts said legal costs associated with the High Court inspection into the then Independent News & Media plc (INM), now Mediahuis Ireland Group Limited, exceeded anticipated levels. Mr Drennan said the INM inspectors may report their findings to the High Court this year “in which case the Inspectors’ report will be provided to the ODCE for examination”.

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan is a contributor to The Irish Times