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‘Irish FBI’ expected to stiffen white collar crime enforcement

Out-Law News | 12 Jul 2022 | 1:34 pm | 2 min. read

Businesses should expect a clampdown on white collar crime in Ireland now the ‘Irish FBI’ has begun operating, an expert has said.

Ann Henry of Pinsent Masons in Dublin was commenting after legislation took effect to bring the new Corporate Enforcement Authority (CEA) into operation.

The CEA has been dubbed the Irish FBI by Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s deputy prime minister. It is an independent body that is structured as a commission with up to three full-time ‘members’. It has been set up to replace the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), which was headed by a single director and sat within the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The CEA is tasked with investigating and prosecuting economic and white collar crime in Ireland. It has greater powers than the ODCE enjoyed, and an increased budget.

Henry said: “The new Corporate Enforcement Authority is expected to usher in a new era of enforcement in white collar crime in Ireland. It is therefore expected that there will be a steep ramp up in high profile enforcement cases in the short term."

The CEA is provided for under the Companies (Corporate Enforcement Authority) Act 2021. The orders providing for the commencement of the Act were signed on 5 and 6 July respectively. As well as providing for the establishment of the CEA, the Act provides for various other amendments to the Companies Act 2014, including amendments to the share capital and the corporate governance of companies.

Henry Ann_Dec 2019

Ann Henry

Partner

The new Corporate Enforcement Authority is expected to usher in a new era of enforcement in white collar crime in Ireland. It is therefore expected that there will be a steep ramp up in high profile enforcement cases in the short term

The CEA, like the ODCE before it, will operate a graduated enforcement regime in relation to breaches of company law. This is expected to involve it issuing warnings and statutory directions prior to resorting to criminal investigation or prosecution. The CEA has some new functions too, including powers to encourage compliance with the Companies Act 2014, investigate suspected offences and non-compliance under the Act, prosecute summary offences, refer indictable offences to the director of public prosecutions, and exercise certain supervisory functions with respect to liquidators and receivers.

Unlike the ODCE, the CEA will be accountable to the Committee of Public Accounts in Ireland’s parliament. Members of the commission can also be called before any committee of the parliament for questioning.

To undertake its new functions, the CEA has been assigned additional civil servants and members of the Irish police force, An Garda Síochána. The CEA’s relationship with An Garda Síochána has been formalised via a memorandum of understanding (8-page / 312KB PDF). The CEA also has autonomy to hire its own staff with the requisite expertise to enable it to perform its functions. Varadkar has confirmed that the CEA’s staff levels will be nearly 50% up on the ODCE, and that its budget has been increased by almost 30%.

The CEA is headed by chief executive Ian Drennan. In a recent interview with the Irish Times, Drennan said the new authority will be able to conduct more speedy investigations: “There will be a greater number of files to the DPP and greater emphasis on indications of criminality that might be in liquidator reports. People can expect to see that quickly. We intend this to be different, and to be seen to be different very quickly.”

On 7 July, the CEA published a paper that details its mission, vision and strategy for the period 2022 to 2025 (14-page / 2.13MB PDF). Its goals over that period include building operational capability, establishing presence, responding to evolving issues, operating an effective system of proportionate, robust and dissuasive enforcement, and ensuring individual accountability.

Henry said: “With the provision of additional funding and resources, the CEA will have additional autonomy and resources to investigate suspected wrongdoing and to deal with larger, more complex investigations. While further reform is expected to enhance the CEA’s investigative and enforcement powers, the establishment of the CEA is an important step in a series of reforms to address the findings of the White-Collar Crime Review Group. In practical terms, it is expected that the establishment of the CEA will increase the investigation and enforcement of company law breaches by the CEA and the speed at which such investigations progress.”