ODCE could have greater role in investigating white-collar crime

Joint committee recommends letting forensic accountants sit in on Garda interviews

Ian Drennan, director of corporate enforcement: Non-Garda professionals working for the ODCE cannot attend interviews conducted by gardaí with suspects in company law crimes under current rules. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Ian Drennan, director of corporate enforcement: Non-Garda professionals working for the ODCE cannot attend interviews conducted by gardaí with suspects in company law crimes under current rules. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Forensic accountants and other experts could sit in on Garda interviews during white-collar crime investigations, if recommendations from an Oireachtas committee become law.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment is recommending that the Companies (Corporate Enforcement Authority) Bill 2018 be changed to allow forensic accountants and other experts to sit in on Garda interviews during white-collar crime investigations.

Legislation

“The committee believes this should be included in the current legislation as the precedent exists for other bodies,” its report on pre-legislative scrutiny of the new law states.

TDs and Senators also want detention periods for suspects increased to seven days from 48 hours.

The Bill aims to establish a new corporate enforcement authority to bolster efforts to tackle company law crime.

Joint committee chairman Maurice Quinlivan said members had made seven recommendations designed to strengthen the proposed law.

The report points out that Ian Drennan, the director of corporate enforcement, told the committee that it was not ideal for staff to sit outside interview rooms, dealing with answers given directly to gardaí, and then formulating follow-up questions.

Non-Garda staff from the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission can sit in on interviews.

Mr Drennan argued that similar powers for the new corporate crime body would boost its effectiveness.

The committee also recommends that examiners, appointed by the courts to rescue troubled companies, should report to the new body in the same way as liquidators do to the ODCE.

Searches

Committee members also say they recognise the advantage of overarching “police powers” over piecemeal legislation. They also want laws governing searches of electronic equipment clarified.

Mr Quinlivan explained that the committee believed its recommendations would fully equip the new authority to do its job.

“Corruption and so-called ‘white-collar crime’ – and the perception that they are not adequately detected and punished – damage our economy and threaten our international reputation as a reliable place to do business in,” he said.

The Companies (Corporate Enforcement Authority) Bill was originally published in December 2018. However, the pre-legislative scrutiny, where Oireachtas committees review proposed laws and recommend changes, was not complete when the last Dáil was dissolved in January 2020.

Mr Quinlivan urged Tánaiste Leo Varadkar to finalise the legislation quickly.