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Surveillance powers to increase under white collar crime crackdown
Pic: Shutterstock

19 Apr 2021 / justice Print

Surveillance powers to increase under white-collar crime crackdown

Justice minister Helen McEntee has published the first cross-Government plan on implementing reforms to tackle economic crime and corruption. 

The implementation plan for the Hamilton Review on Economic Crime and Corruption sets out 22 actions to be completed across Government within 18 months.

The Hamilton Review of Structures and Strategies to Prevent, Investigate and Penalise Economic Crime and Corruption was published in December 2020.  

Financial services' vulnerability

That review said that the vulnerability of the Irish financial services sector to economic crime and corruption “cannot be over-emphasised” with funds administered here worth up to €1.8 trillion.

Fraud and related offences grew by 18.3% in 2018, according to CSO figures.

The review says the move to online transactions and payments, accelerated by the pandemic, increases the opportunities for cyber-criminals and the risks of computer crime.

The review extends the scope of ‘white-collar crime’ beyond corruption, fraud and related offences committed by corporations or by professionals in the context of their work, to include social-welfare fraud and insurance fraud.

The review group therefore uses the term ‘economic crime’ as a more comprehensive collective term for corruption offences.

It also states that an action can be both fraudulent and corrupt and, in Ireland, certain actions could be classed as offences under both the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001 and the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018.

There are, however, fundamental differences between the two concepts. While fraud necessarily involves a deception perpetrated with the aim of financial gain at the direct expense of another, corruption may not necessarily involve a deception, and neither does it invariably involve a financial gain for one party or a direct pecuniary loss to another.

'Abuse of entrusted power'

Secondly, unlike corruption, fraud does not always – or even typically – involve “the abuse of entrusted power”.

Fraudulent use of another’s credit card, invoice redirection, insurance and social welfare fraud do not generally involve corruption, unless there happens to be a co-conspirator, the review points out.

It contains a number of recommendations focusing primarily on legislative, structural and resourcing measures to enhance the capacity of agency and multi-agency enforcement and the prevention of corruption and white-collar crime offences.  

The plans are a key element of Minister McEntee’s Justice Plan 2021

Actions include:

  • An Advisory Council against Economic Crime and Corruption to advise and make proposals on strategic and policy responses will be established by the autumn,
  • The Advisory Council will submit a multi-annual strategy to combat economic crime and corruption to Cabinet by next spring,
  • 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,
  • Legislation to extend the surveillance powers currently available to an Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners to other bodies with a remit to investigate economic crime and corruption to be developed by the end of 2021, among other legislative proposals.

The Hamilton Review recommends a centralised Government framework for the procurement of electronic documentary analysis and e-disclosure systems, which can be accessed by law enforcement agencies (and by the Chief State Solicitor’s Office) on a shared basis as required.

It also recommends that a Criminal Procedures Bill be expedited and that the independence and capacity of the Standards in Public Office (SIPO) are enhanced through extra resources.

It also wants specific legislation to detect and deter bid-rigging in public procurement processes.

Electronic passwords

Gardaí should be given standalone search warrants to demand access to electronic passwords, the review says.

It also backs Law Reform Commission (LRC) recommendations that a ‘standard of recklessness’ be inserted into the relevant provisions of current fraud offences.

Currently, fraud offences require proof of intention. The move would widen the behaviours which give rise to liability.

It also says that the garda detention period should be extended to seven days, subject to judicial authorisation.

Gazette Desk
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