What will ODCE’s turbulence mean for its investigation into INM-Newstalk row?
Office in disarray following botched Seán FitzPatrick prosecution
Denis O Brien: The ODCE is currently investigating INM, where he is largest shareholder.
Denis O’Brien will no doubt have keenly observed last week’s debacle surrounding the collapse of Seán Fitzpatrick’s trial and the mess that is the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), whose investigative incompetence helped wreck the prosecution case.
However, it is the ODCE’s travails, and what it might mean for its ongoing investigation into proposed dealings at Independent News & Media involving O’Brien-linked assets, that is possibly of more direct relevance to the businessman.
The ODCE is currently investigating INM, where O’Brien is largest shareholder, after its chief executive, Robert Pitt, went to the State’s corporate watchdog with a complaint under whistleblower legislation over a proposed bid to buy Mr O’Brien’s Newstalk. Mr Pitt didn’t want to pay over the odds, as he saw it.
At least one more senior executive, thought to include INM chief financial officer Ryan Preston, has also complained about the proposed Newstalk deal to ODCE, which has asked INM to produce records.
The ODCE is believed to be leaning heavily into its INM probe. This is a major corporate governance investigation into one of Ireland’s best-known PLCs. Its major shareholder is Ireland’s richest man who is also the owner of the asset that INM’s reticent chief executive thought was overvalued.
In essence, this is another potentially huge case for the ODCE.
Could a thorough and focused INM investigation give the ODCE a shot at redeeming its reputation, severely damaged by the FitzPatrick case?
Only if the watchdog survives. Already, Cabinet Ministers are refusing to express confidence in the ODCE. Opposition politicians are calling for its to be replaced with a proper white-collar crime investigation agency that is “fit for purpose”.
The contract of the head of the ODCE, Ian Drennan, is up in September. If the ODCE in its current guise, and its director, depart, how will this affect the ongoing INM investigation?
Will a replacement agency be interested, or sufficiently resourced, to continue with it? Or will the probe be allowed to wither on the vine?