Minister ponders examining NIB bonds sale


The appointment of an authorised officer to examine the sale of Isle of Man investment bonds by National Irish Bank (NIB) is being considered by the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Mr Noel Treacy.

Mr Treacy has responsibility for the operation of insurance legislation, one part of which, the Insurance Act 1989, includes the power to appoint an authorised officer. The power has not been used before. However, provisions of the Investment Intermediaries Act, which are modelled on the Insurance Act, were used in the investigation of the case of the missing investment broker, Mr Tony Taylor.

In that instance, the officer's report was sent to the Revenue Commissioners, the Director of Public Prosecutions and, by way of the Department of Justice, to the Garda. The report of an authorised officer may not be published.

Lengthy and detailed legal opinion on the sale of the Clerical Medical International (CMI) bonds by NIB has been received by the Minister and is being considered by him and senior officials at his Department. The opinion was received last week from the Attorney General's office and from a practising barrister. It is unlikely any decision will be taken before early next week, when the Tβnaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Ms Harney, who is currently visiting the US, will have had time to discuss the matter with Mr Treacy.

Ms Harney has powers under the companies acts to appoint an authorised officer or an inspector. Inspectors' reports may be published. The Insurance Act does not include the power to appoint an inspector.

Officers appointed under the Insurance Act may enter premises where they have reasonable grounds for believing documents relating to the policies being investigated are being held. They may require persons employed there to produce relevant documents and to give information in relation to entries in the documents.

The legal opinion received last week is understood to cover the relevance of penalties included in 1930s insurance acts, EU directives, the relationship between CMI and its parent company in Britain, and other matters.

An expert in insurance law told The Irish Times the issues involved are "woefully complicated". If it is found there are legal difficulties with the sale of the bonds, the issue of what should happen with the investments in the future would arise. "If it is found that the bonds were licensed for sale, then that is one matter. If not, then the implications are profound," the source said.

Meanwhile, the decision of the Supreme Court in the attempt by NIB to restrain RT╔ from using information it holds on the sale of the bonds, is to be delivered tomorrow.

Earlier this month the High Court refused an application in the matter from the bank. An appeal was then made by the bank to the Supreme Court. During that hearing, Mr Kevin Feeney SC, for RT╔, said several account holders with NIB had confirmed to the station that they had accounts with the bank for the purpose of evading tax. Mr Feeney said the station had a list of 20 such accounts held under the CMI scheme.