The State’s corporate watchdog has received just two extra Garda detectives out of six that it requested from the force almost a year ago to help deal with its caseload of major white-collar crime investigations.
In the annual report of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), the director, Ian Drennan, says he wrote to Garda Commissioner Drew Harris last July requesting a half dozen detectives, each for six month placements.
The request was approved in November 2020, and the detectives were to be provided arising from a recruitment process for the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau. Two detectives were assigned to the ODCE in April 2021.
“Assignment of the remaining four [is] still awaited,” said Mr Drennan.
The ODCE is dealing with several large and complex cases, such as ongoing investigations into matters at the Football Association of Ireland and Mediahuis Ireland, formerly known as Independent News & Media.
The annual report reveals, however, a sharp decline in complaints from the public and liquidations last year, which Mr Drennan attributes to reduced business levels due to the pandemic.
The number of public complaints of alleged breaches of company law fell more than 40 per cent to 149, while the volume of liquidators reports, from which the ODCE pursues suspected breaches of law, fell by a quarter to 609. Overall, the number of liquidations in 2020 fell 6 per cent to 1,889, it says.
The ODCE sent four case files to the DPP, from which charges were directed in three, with 55 charges against five different people over alleged breaches of company law. This resulted in 12 guilty pleas.
Mr Drennan said “there is a view that current State supports are masking true levels of corporate financial distress”, and it is possible that there could be a “substantial” increase in insolvencies as the pandemic eases and supports unwind.
He also warned against “unrealistic expectations” among the public over the remit of the ODCE, citing as an example requests for it to investigate the allocation of vaccines in hospitals. He said the organisation’s remit is only to investigate breaches of company law.
“Company law is not a vehicle through which every alleged instance of so-called ‘white-collar crime’ concerning a company, however tangentially, can be addressed.”
The ODCE spent €4.3 million last year, its report says, while it handed back to the Government almost €1.8 million of its budget allocation of close to €6.1 million.