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Central Bank eyes more inquiries as it looks at individuals in tracker scandal

The Central Bank’s director general for financial conduct said the regulator plans to use its inquiry process “more routinely” to pursue individuals suspected of involvement in regulatory breaches. This comes after the regulator has racked up multimillion-euro bills pursuing lengthy and costly public investigations into former Irish Nationwide Building Society and Quinn Insurance figures in recent years.

Addressing an online corporate crime and regulation event hosted by law firm A&L Goodbody on Wednesday, Derville Rowland also said the Central Bank is continuing to look at “individual accountability” in relation to the tracker-mortgage scandal as enforcement investigations into lenders continue.

The regulator has so far fined Ulster Bank, Permanent TSB and KBC Bank Ireland a combined €76 million for their roles in the State’s biggest banking industry overcharging debacle, while cases against AIB and its EBS unit as well as Bank of Ireland continue.

The Central Bank has concluded 144 enforcement actions since 2006, imposing fines amounting to over €166.5 million under its administrative sanctions procedure and has disqualified 26 individuals from senior roles in firms.

However, its public inquiry procedure, used in cases where firms or individuals do not reach a settlement, has proven lengthy and costly in the two high-profile cases pursued through this route in recent times. The bank has disclosed almost €10 million of costs relating to running of public inquiries into individuals involved in the management of the failed Irish Nationwide Building Society (INBS) and Quinn Insurance Limited between 2016 and 2020.

That figure, contained in the Central Bank’s latest annual report, published in June, only gives a partial picture of total cost to date of the long-running INBS inquiry, as the key legal fees and inquiry members’ fees attached to this case will only be revealed once it has come to a conclusion.

The Quinn cases concluded a year ago, after the two former directors under inquiry reached settlements.

Only remaining subject

Former INBS director John Stanley Purcell is the only remaining subject of an inquiry into the failed lender. During the period, the inquiry has dropped its case against INBS’s long-standing managing director Michael Fingleton, due to the octogenarian’s ill health, and settled with three of the other original five executives and directors subject to investigation.

The INBS investigation, which has been the subject of sporadic public hearings between December 2017 and the conclusion of evidence in July of this year, is expected to conclude in 2022, Ms Rowland said.

“As we move forward, we expect to use our inquiry process more routinely. If a case goes to inquiry, it indicates that an individual or firm has not made the admissions or agreed the sanctions that the Central Bank considers necessary to form the basis of settlement,” Ms Rowland said, adding that individuals are more likely to contest cases than firms.

She noted that some provisions in the recently published general scheme for the Central Bank (Individual Accountability Framework) Bill, expected to be enacted next year, are aimed at streamlining the inquiry process. The main purpose of the planned law, however, is to bring a long-awaited senior executive accountability regime (Sear) into place, which will make it easier for the regulator to hold senior managers in banks and other financial firms accountable for failings under their watch.

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