State agency under pressure over Seán FitzPatrick inquiry

Judge found the ODCE set out to ‘construct a case’ against the former Anglo chairman

The former chairman and chief executive of Anglo Irish Bank, Seán FitzPatrick, has been acquitted on all charges against him at the Circuit Criminal Court. Video: Colm Keena

 

The State agency set up to tackle white-collar crime is under severe pressure after the judge in the trial of former Anglo Irish Bank chairman, Seán FitzPatrick, heavily criticised its investigation into the banker.

In announcing that he was going to direct the jury to acquit Mr FitzPatrick of all charges, Judge John Aylmer said the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) had set out to “build or construct a case” against Mr FitzPatrick rather than “investigate the case independently and impartially”.

Politicians on Tuesday night criticised the ODCE for its handling of the case with Fine Gael leadership candidate Simon Coveney saying “an exceptionally high-profile case” had “essentially come to nothing”.

Mr Fitzpatrick (68), of Whitshed Road, Greystones, Co Wicklow, had pleaded not guilty to 27 offences under the 1990 Companies Act in the longest trial in Irish criminal history, which will come to an end on Wednesday.

It was the second time Mr FitzPatrick was before the courts on the same charges, with an earlier trial having collapsed in 2015 after it emerged that ODCE official Kevin O’Connell had shredded documents relevant to the case.

‘Partisan and biased’

In his decision, the Circuit Criminal Court judge described the agency’s investigation into Mr FitzPatrick’s alleged failure to inform the bank’s auditors about multi-million loans as “partisan and biased”.

The ODCE, in a statement, said it fully accepted the criticisms of Judge Aylmer but went on to state that the practices that were so heavily criticised dated as far back as 2009.

It pointed out that the current director, Ian Drennan, was appointed in the latter half of 2012, following the retirement of the previous incumbent, Paul Appleby.

The ODCE said the shredding should not have occurred but at the time the staff member concerned was “under enormous stress”.

During the trial Mr O’Connell said he took on the role as de facto lead investigator in the case, despite his lack of experience, as his response to the “more for less” ethos then being looked for from public servants during the financial crisis.

The trial will be the last to be faced by Mr FitzPatrick arising from the collapse of Anglo. In 2014 he was found not guilty by a jury of alleged offences connected to the so-called Maple Ten loans.

Coming out of the Criminal Courts of Justice building, he said the trial had been long and difficult. “ As you can appreciate it’s a wonderful day for me and my family.”

Legal aid

Mr FitzPatrick, a former bankrupt, was on legal aid and was represented during the 126-day trial by one senior counsel, three junior counsel and a solicitor.

Labour Party TD Alan Kelly called on Mr Drennan to resign, while Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan said the Government must order the ODCE chief to explain how the failings came about.

Citing staff shortages and budget cutbacks at the regulator, Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said it was clear the State put tackling welfare fraud over tackling white-collar crime.