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What is the Corporate Enforcement Authority? What powers will it have?

by Stephen Conmy on Oct 27, 2021

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What is the Corporate Enforcement Authority? In short it is a new, more powerful version of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) in Ireland.

The ODCE is to be transformed into a statutory, independent agency with more resources to investigate and prosecute white-collar crime. This agency will be known as the Corporate Enforcement Authority (CEA) and start work in January 2022.

What will the Corporate Enforcement Authority do?

It will have more powers to investigate more significant, more complex cases of suspected criminal activity, such as fraudulent trading.

Ian Drennan, director of corporate enforcement, said the new authority marks a watershed moment for Ireland’s strategy on addressing economic and white-collar crime.

“With enhanced autonomy and significantly increased levels of investigative assets – including additional legal and digital forensics professionals and seconded members of An Garda Síochána – the Corporate Enforcement Authority will assume the ODCE’s current caseload and will, I anticipate, continue to build on the ODCE’s forensic and robust approach towards tackling serious breaches of company law and associated wrongdoing in both civil and criminal realms,” says Drennan.

“The ODCE’s historic under-funding has been well-documented and came into sharp focus when the trial of Sean Fitzpatrick collapsed.”

CEA

Will the Corporate Enforcement Authority have other new powers?

Since the CEA will be statutorily independent, it will have more flexibility in recruiting specialist staff. (This is the main additional power, the ability to recruit experts when they are needed.) The CEA will also work more closely with the police.

“I am pleased that this new authority will have all the necessary human resources required, both Civil Service and members of An Garda Síochána, to pursue breaches of Company Law,” the Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar said.

“Already, the budget of the ODCE has been increased by 20% or €1 million to €6.057 million, and my Department has sanctioned 14 additional staff to be assigned to the CEA.”

“The permanent complement of members of An Garda Síochána will double from seven to 16, and so the CEA’s total headcount will have increased nearly 50% over existing levels.”

How will the CEA investigate breaches of company law?

“With enhanced autonomy and significantly increased levels of investigative assets – including additional legal and digital forensics professionals and seconded members of An Garda Síochána – the CEA will assume the ODCE’s current caseload and will, I anticipate, continue to build on the ODCE’s forensic and robust approach towards tackling serious breaches of company law and associated wrongdoing in both civil and criminal realms,” says Ian Drennan.

Why was the Corporate Enforcement Authority set up now?

ODCE’s establishment as an independent agency was part of the Irish government’s ‘White-collar crime package’ of measures to enhance Ireland’s capability to combat corporate, economic, and regulatory crime.

ODCE’s historic under-funding has been well-documented and came into sharp focus when the trial of Sean Fitzpatrick collapsed.

In December 2018, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation reviewed the ODCE investigation. They found it lacked the skills, experience, and risk management processes needed to launch multiple complex investigations simultaneously.

“The new authority will have a greater degree of autonomy in recruiting specialists to handle investigations.”

CEA

What is the difference between the ODCE and the CEA?

The CEA’s statutory duties are similar to those of ODCE. The critical difference is that the CEA is an independent agency rather than an office in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which allows it to hire staff and determine their pay grades with the approval of the Minister.

Thus, the authority will have a greater degree of autonomy in recruiting specialists to handle the investigations.

As part of this autonomy, the budgetary allowance was increased by one million euros to six million in 2021.

Additional specialist staff, including legal and digital forensic experts, will be needed to allow the CEA to carry out investigations.

Will the CEA have any new investigatory powers?

The CEA’s powers will be very similar to those of the ODCE, which has already been given extensive investigative powers under the Companies Act 2014.

The additional powers proposed are the ability to require passwords for electronic devices, conduct surveillance, and permit ODCE officials to participate in interviews alongside Gardai.

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