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Garda fraud chief: Ireland's 'crazy' system for hunting white collar criminals must change

Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan said current investigation system is “crazy”.

Image: Shutterstock/Billion Photos

THE SENIOR GARDA leading Ireland’s fight against white collar crime has described as “crazy” the system currently in place to investigate firms suspected of engaging in questionable practices.

Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan told The Journal that his unit needs more gardaí, more resources and a united front with other enforcement agencies.

Lordan, the lead officer in the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and one of the force’s most senior investigators, believes part of the problem is a lack of staff.

“We absolutely need more members – we got new staff in April. We got 17 gardaí and then last month 16 members to back-fill vacancies that we have. Those vacancies were created by people retiring, people who moved on or promoted,” he said.

But the detective also believes that the findings of the Hamilton Report, which examined the State’s handling of white collar crime, and its recommendations to better resource those who investigate financial crime, are both positives.

Review

After several high profile white collar investigations and court cases, such as those into Anglo Irish Bank, political pressure mounted to modernise the manner, protocols and legislation surrounding such criminal probes.

Former Director of Public Prosecutions James Hamilton led the review group that compiled the report. 

In November 2017, the government published a suite of regulatory, corporate governance and law enforcement measures – known as the ‘white-collar crime package’. This included a commitment to “review and strengthen anti-corruption and anti-fraud structures in criminal justice enforcement”.

Hamilton was appointed at the time to act as the independent chair of a multi-agency review group which comprised members of government departments and key State agencies, as well as a small number of experts from outside the public service.

The group’s recommendations, published last December, included that legislation should be changed to allow gardaí to compel suspects who were detained for questioning over white collar offences to provide passwords to telephones and other electronic devices.

There was also a view that greater resourcing should be provided to the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo), the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Garda National and Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB). 

This followed an examination of the capacity for these units to carry out their work and the need for staffing and other resources to better deal with investigations. 

There was also a recommendation to provide for the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) in their investigations to obtain evidence using covert means, in line with An Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners.

This would give these agencies an ability to obtain warrants to bug and listen to conversations as well as carry out surveillance – both electronic and in person. 

Separately, in June it was announced that gardaí would get the power to compel people to hand over encryption keys or passwords – a recommendation in the Future of Policing report.

Clear path

Lordan believes that the Hamilton Report sets out a clear path to overcoming some of the challenges in investigating economic crime, but he said that a number of issues still remain.

Among his criticisms are of the system that is in place to deal with businesses engaged in white collar crime.

“There is the gardaí, the ODCE, Justice, the Competition authority, the Central Bank, SIPO – six or seven main players form this new group under Hamilton,” he said.

“The problem is they brought all these laws in for this. But there is one big issue, if there is a garage locally that might be dodgy, inspectors from the Department of Justice go down to check if they are complying with money laundering legislation.

“But they have no teeth. They can’t prosecute anyone. They are going down to look and then refer back to the guards if they want to prosecute. It is a crazy system.”

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Irish FBI?

In recent weeks, a group of experts – including Lordan – met to discuss the next stage for the implementation phase of Hamilton’s recommendations. 

Lordan said previous discussions involved the potential creation of a dedicated group of specialist investigators similar to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the US or the National Crime Agency in the UK. 

“There was a feeling in Ireland we needed something like that,” he said.

“However, sat around Hamilton, after six or seven meetings it was realised the guards could do this but it was realised they need the resources, the IT, technology and where-with-all there.

“The guards are the one body of people who can get search warrants and arrest people.” 

In April of this year Justice Minister Helen McEntee announced the plan to tackle economic crime and corruption. 

Contained within that plan is a line which may help Lordan and his colleagues: “A resourcing plan for the long term needs of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau will be submitted by An Garda Síochána to the Policing Authority and Department of Justice by this summer.”

After repeated calls from senior gardaí, including Lordan, the white collar ball is back in the garda court and rather than a new agency the Government has favoured properly resourcing An Garda Síochána to do the job.

This the last in our series centred on Fraud investigation, which included the threat to financial institutions, organised crime groups operating in Ireland and the problem of investment fraud

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