Appleby's team is too small to catch big fish

In last week’s Irish Times, Colm Keena argued that the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) is being starved of resources, and has been effectively reduced to something that is far removed from the strong language of it’s title.

The most striking aspect of all of this is how long it has taken for any cases to come to court in relation to the Ansbacher scandal, and how relatively minor are the (civil) punishments at issue.

The point applies to the NIB and DIRT scandals as much as to the Ansbacher one. No-one ever goes to jail for corporate offences in Ireland.

Perhaps all criminals giving advice to children intent on following in their footsteps should say; first get a degree.

Contrast the situation here with the US, where WorldCom’s Bernard Ebbers is in jail and the Enron trial is currently under way. In the US millionaires sometimes walk out of court in chains.

The point is made in a general way and is not meant to imply anything concerning Mr Collery or Mr McCann.

It may be a cultural thing, but a greater factor is no doubt one of scale. New York State Attorney General Elliot Spritzer probably has 10 times or more lawyers than Paul Appleby has staff. Mr Appleby’s office has some 37 to 40 employees and an annual budget of €4 million. He sought 20 more staff a year ago but has not yet been granted this by the Government.

He concludes:

After he’s paid his staff and dealt with the ordinary cases that flow into his office, how much discretionary spending does he have? Probably very little. Already his office, though getting through increasing amounts of work, is nevertheless seeing an increasing backlog of cases to be dealt with.

In such a scenario there is a danger that the only ones who will be held to account in terms of corporate law, will be smaller and middle-range individuals and businesses. The ODCE may simply not be equipped with the expertise and resources necessary to take on a multimillionaire or billionaire entrepreneur, not to mention an Irish or foreign multinational with Irish registered companies. And then there is the issue of IFSC or financial services companies generally, with billions swishing back and forth between Ireland, the Cayman Islands and God knows where else.

The combination of huge incentives and scant likelihood of being brought to book is a dangerous cocktail.