The corporate watchdog 'fully accepts' Seán FitzPatrick trial flaws - and blames its own staff

It admits some investigators had ‘no training or experience’ in taking witness statements.

By Peter Bodkin Editor, Fora

THE CORPORATE WATCHDOG says it “fully accepts” criticism levelled at it following a bungled investigation into the alleged wrongdoing of Seán FitzPatrick at the failed Anglo Irish Bank.

However the ODCE, which is tasked with investigating white-collar criminals and other instances of corporate malfeasance, added that the failures “date as far back as to early 2009″ and it was now “a very different organisation”.

It said that its lead investigator, who admitted to shredding files relating to the case, had been suffering ”significant mental health issues”.

After the longest trial in Irish history, the former Anglo chairman was today acquitted on all charges relating to the €122 million in director’s loans he was accused of concealing. FitzPatrick denied the allegations.

Judge John Aylmer ruled the charges shouldn’t be put before a jury because of serious flaws in the ODCE’s investigation.

He said the most fundamental error was the manner in which the corporate watchdog set about taking statements from witnesses, who were ‘coached’ and had their evidence contaminated.

Documents shredded

The lead investigator, Kevin O’Connell, admitted he destroyed potentially relevant documents, a disclosure which led to FitzPatrick’s first trial being aborted.

In its statement, the ODCE said it is clear the organisation “was simply not equipped to undertake parallel investigations on the scale involved” at the time.

Two key witnesses from Anglo auditors Ernst & Young had their statements taken “by a small number of senior civilian staff”, resulting in the “very serious failings”.

“Regrettably … none of those individuals had any training or experience of taking witness statements.

“Moreover, the inappropriateness of the approach that was subsequently adopted in obtaining those statements was not sufficiently appreciated nor were the attendant risks responded to appropriately.”

FitzPatrick was first arrested in March 2010, but he wasn’t charged until mid-2012.

[embed id="embed_2"]

Resources

As previously highlighted on Forathe ODCE has had a 25% cut in staffing over the past six years, while the number of gardaí working at the organisation was halved from 10 to five.

The office’s total budget in 2015 was just over €5 million, which compares to the €8.4 million spent on Oireachtas office supplies in the same year. The ODCE said at the time that it wasn’t seeking additional resources.

The ODCE said the shredding of several documents relating to the trial by a staff member “clearly should not have occurred”, but it happened against the backdrop of  ”significant mental health issues” which in some cases pre-dated the incident.

It added that a new director had been appointed to the organisation since its former head, Paul Appleby, announced he was retiring in 2012 and since then the ODCE had “undergone significant change”.

Sign up to our newsletter to receive a regular digest of Fora’s top articles delivered to your inbox.