Calls for head of ODCE to resign after Seán FitzPatrick acquitted

Corporate enforcement body admits it was ‘woefully incapable’ of handling investigation

Former Chairman of Anglo Irish bank, Sean Fitzpatrick. “It is apparent  that the ODCE did not conduct an impartial and unbiased investigation,” said Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan.   Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Former Chairman of Anglo Irish bank, Sean Fitzpatrick. “It is apparent that the ODCE did not conduct an impartial and unbiased investigation,” said Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

 

The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) came under fire from politicians last night after its mishandling of the case of former Anglo Irish Bank chairman Seán FitzPatrick was criticised by a Circuit Court judge.

The Labour Party called for an independent investigation into the functioning of the ODCE while Fianna Fáil said Ian Drennan, head of the office, should be ordered by the Government to explain the failings.

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said the public would be “frustrated and angry” at the mishandling of the case, in which Judge John Aylmer will today direct the jury to acquit Mr FitzPatrick.

“If the reason for the trial collapsing is that the ODCE didn’t do its job as professionally as it should – that’s very serious,” he said. “This was an exceptionally high-profile case. It has essentially come to nothing.”

The ODCE on Tuesday admitted it was woefully incapable of handling the investigation and blamed the shortcomings on a lack of experienced staff and the mental health problems of one of its investigators.

Destruction of evidence

Referring to the destruction of evidence which occurred before the latest trial, the ODCE said the staff member concerned, Kevin O’Connell, was “under enormous stress” at the time and that it occurred “against a backdrop of significant mental health issues”.

These issues resulted in Mr O’Connell “being hospitalised for almost two months after he shredded the documents”. The office also accepted there were “serious failures” in its how it handled taking witness statements from the bank’s auditors Ernst and Young.

Labour TD Alan Kelly called for Mr Drennan to resign immediately.

“It is astonishing that the Director of Corporate Enforcement presided over an office where documents were shredded and it is truly shocking to learn that witnesses were coached and that the ODCE, in the words of the judge, ‘completely lost sight’ of the nature and extent of the evidence in relation to guilt and innocence,” he said.

Mr Kelly also called for an independent investigation into the functioning of the ODCE,“especially but not exclusively in relation to the Fitzpatrick case”.

Failings

Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan, whose party was in government when the ODCE was set up in 2001, called on the Government to order Mr Drennan to explain the failings in the investigation.

“It is apparent from the decision that the ODCE did not conduct an impartial and unbiased investigation,” Mr O’Callaghan said. “Every person charged with a criminal offence . . . is entitled to a fair investigation.”

Others pointed to the acquittal as an inevitable result of the understaffing of the ODCE. In 2014, it emerged there was just one forensic accountant working in the office.

“It is clear that the state prioritises tackling welfare fraud over tackling white collar crime despite the fact that white collar crime is a far bigger issue and costs the state far more each year,” said Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty.

Solidarity Party TD Ruth Coppinger said the ODCE has a case to answer for incompetence but that a bigger problem is what she called a broader reluctance to punish those accused of white collar crime.