Corporate watchdog challenges FAI over 'privileged' legal files

Legal proceedings have been initiated by the corporate watchdog in connection with matters at the FAI.

The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) wants the High Court to determine if documents given to it by the football association contain privileged legal material.

Legal professional privilege attaches to communications between a lawyer and cannot be disclosed without the permission of the client, in this case the FAI.

The move by the ODCE comes in the wake of weeks of controversy over the football association’s finances and a €100,000 “bridging loan” given to it by former chief executive John Delaney.

Mr Delaney has stepped aside from his role as executive vice chairman of the FAI while an independent investigation is ongoing. Honorary secretary Michael Cody and honorary treasurer Eddie Murray both voluntarily resigned from the FAI board last month.

It was known the ODCE was looking into matters, but the High Court application represents a serious escalation.

As part of the application, it has been disclosed the FAI was issued with notifications requiring it to hand over copies of certain books and documents. The proceedings were initiated on Thursday when a solicitor for the ODCE filed an affidavit in the High Court.

The purpose of the proceedings was not immediately disclosed. However, matters became clearer when lawyers for the ODCE appeared before Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds yesterday.

They said the application, under the Companies Act 2014, related to certain material sought from the FAI, which was supplied by the association earlier this week.

Lawyers said the application relates to “potentially legally privileged material”.

In a sworn statement to the court, the ODCE told how on April 19 last it issued a notification requiring the FAI to provide copies of books and documents.

The documents sought include the minutes of all meetings of the FAI board and committees of the board for the period January 1, 2016, to March 21, 2019 inclusive.

On Wednesday, the FAI produced the required documentation. But it also placed several documents in a separate container, which it seeks to claim privilege over.

The ODCE now wants the High Court to determine if this material is privileged legal material or not.

The integrity of that allegedly privileged material supplied by the association has been maintained, the ODCE said in its statement to the court. As part of the application, the ODCE will seek to have a legally qualified person examine the material and prepare a report for the court.

Ms Justice Reynolds granted the ODCE permission to serve short notice of the application asking the court to make a ruling in respect of the material against the FAI.

The judge adjourned the matter, which will be next mentioned before the court on Tuesday.

A spokesman for the FAI said: “The FAI is aware of the ODCE application and acknowledges this is part of their ongoing process. The FAI continues to co-operate fully with the ODCE.”

A spokesman for the ODCE said he was not in a position to comment at this stage.

Under the Companies Act, the ODCE has considerable powers to investigate corporate governance, including seeking the appointment of High Court inspectors.

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