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One step forward, one step back: Ireland's engagement with the European Public Prosecutor's Office

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The European Public Prosecutor's Office ('the EPPO') continues to express frustration and regret at the apparent lack of engagement from the Irish authorities in respect of a number of requests related to ongoing investigations into financial crimes connected with Ireland. The EPPO was created on 1 June 2021 to prosecute offences which involve misuse of EU funds; typically offences related to money laundering, fraud and corruption. 

In June of 2022, it was reported that there had been six private complaints related to the EPPO in respect of activities in Ireland.[1] At that time, the EPPO's Chief Prosecutor, Laura Codruța Kövesi ('the Chief Prosecutor'), informed The Irish Times that there were two cases connected with Ireland which were being delayed as a result of lack of engagement with formal requests made by the EPPO. 

In a recent development, the EPPO's office published a press release on 23 November 2022 stating that Ireland had been "[…] consistently rejecting the EPPO’s requests for judicial cooperation since the start of its operations […]". The EPPO "deeply regrets" Ireland's position in respect of the requests made. In addition, the release states there are now "[…] six ongoing investigations involving Ireland".[2]

Ireland has an opt-out on EU cooperation in freedom, security and justice and, at present, is one of the five EU nations not to participate in the EPPO scheme. While the Chief Prosecutor recognised that there are "legislative difficulties" meaning that it is difficult for Ireland to participate in the scheme, the Chief Prosecutor and the EPPO have repeatedly indicated that Ireland is still required to comply with requests from European delegated prosecutors as part of the Convention on Mutual Assistance between EU countries.

A spokesperson for the Irish Government ('the Government') robustly denied the EPPO's claims in a response give to Global Investigations Review on 24th November.[3] The Government reported difficulties in responding to EPPO requests, which come directly from the EPPO, as opposed to those requests for mutual assistance which come from other EU countries.  In any event, the Government has now stated its intention to legislate to deal with the issue more completely in early 2023. 

This public criticism will come as a significant blow to the Irish Government who, since the Hamilton Report[4] ('the Report') in December 2020, has been working to improve the nation's approach to corporate enforcement and white collar crime by implementing an action plan.[5]  The Report observed that Ireland is “[…] a major international hub for financial services, with Irish based companies administering funds valued at approximately €1.8 trillion" and made a series of recommendations. 

July 2022 saw perhaps the most significant development since the Report was published; the creation of the Corporate Enforcement Authority ('the CEA') whose mission is to "[…] improve the compliance environment for corporate activity in the Irish economy."  The CEA press releases indicate that they have already arrested, charged and secured guilty pleas in respect of certain individuals. So as not to undo the inevitably positive messaging flowing from this emergent activity by the CEA, the Government will need to stick to its pledge to unpick the legislative muddle hampering its effective engagement with the EPPO in the New Year. 
 
Will Glover is a Senior Associate (Barrister) based in Fieldfisher's Commercial Crime Team in London.  He has experience of advising individuals and corporates in investigations brought by national enforcement agencies in the UK and is mentioned in the Legal 500 in the relevant sections on Corporate Crime and White-Collar Crime (Individuals) in the UK.  He is also Co-Chair of the London Irish Lawyers' Association.

Neil Cahill is a Senior Associate based in Fieldfisher's Dispute Resolution Team in Dublin and is a member of the Commercial Crime Team.  He has experience of acting for major insurers and corporates in the fields of fraud and health and safety prosecutions.  He is admitted to the roll of solicitors in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

 

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