New Garda powers under review to tackle white-collar crime

Next-generation search warrants could gain access to suspects' device data

There is a growing concern within the Garda that the force was being swamped by the workload related to economic crimes, especially those with an online dimension. Photograph: iStock

There is a growing concern within the Garda that the force was being swamped by the workload related to economic crimes, especially those with an online dimension. Photograph: iStock

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Significant new powers are being considered for An Garda Síochána to tackle white collar and other economic crimes, including new search warrants for gaining access to the passwords and other login details of suspects’ computers and mobile phones.

The Government is also examining how new search warrants might be formulated to give the Garda and other investigators in the Republic access to data and evidence stored in cloud, or virtual, storage.

Under a new plan to be published on Monday by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, judges may also be trained to preside over complex trials involving white-collar crime, including corruption. Some judges may specialise in such cases and the Government is planning to liaise with the judicial council on the proposal as a first step.

The moves come as more and more organised crime has migrated online. There is also growing concern within the Garda that the force was being swamped by the workload related to economic crimes, especially those with an online dimension.

Under the plan, there are 22 Government actions for tackling economic crime, with timelines for each action over the next 18 months.

“White-collar crime undermines confidence in our economic system and damages our economy itself,” Ms McEntee said. “Those who commit such crimes will be caught and punished, and this implementation plan will give the State the tools to vigorously pursue those criminals.”

The plan, which covers multiple investigative State agencies and Government departments, aims to implement the recommendations made last year by former Director of Public Prosecutions James Hamilton. He carried out a review into how the Garda and other agencies investigated economic crime and corruption, including in politics and big business, and found the Republic lagged behind other jurisdictions.

Other measures

The new implementation plan seeks to bolster the resources, expertise and powers available for addressing economic crime, not only in the Garda but also within agencies such as the Central Bank, Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), Corporate Enforcement Authority (CEA) and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, among others.

As well as the search warrants for phone and electronic devices passwords, other measures contained in the plan include:

  • Establishing within Government an Advisory Council against Economic Crime and Corruption “to advise and make proposals on strategic and policy responses to economic crime and corruption”
  • Formulating a long-term plan to ensure “adequate resources are available to the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau”
  • Reviewing the capacity of the Standards in Public Office Commission
  • Changing legislation to ensure white collar crime suspects can be detained for up to seven days without charge, as organised crime suspects are at present;
  • Seconding more gardaí to other investigative state agencies including the ODCE and CEA
  • Developing a formal and continuous joint training programme for investigators of economic crime and corruption

It is also planned to review any relevant legislation to ensure all the agencies in the State that investigate economic crime and corruption can share information and investigate serious allegations by coming together as a joint taskforce.

Mr Hamilton’s report concluded the resources available in the Garda for fighting economic crime were worse now than 30 years ago, despite economic crime being a much bigger and more complex problem.

The report identified threats from economic crime to financial services sector, saying the State’s “vulnerability . . . to economic crime and corruption cannot be over-emphasised”.

Mr Hamilton warned that because Ireland was a hub for global corporations, significant reputational damaged would be inflicted on the Republic if it could not properly investigate economic crime.