Former INM chairman Leslie Buckley believes two inspectors appointed to investigate various matters at the company have prepared material exhibiting a “overwhelming, dominant and persistent pattern of error” in a way “unfairly adverse” to Mr Buckley and “unfairly favourable” to his accusers, especially former INM chief executive Robert Pitt, the High Court has been told.
In contrast, Mr Pitt, who is Mr Buckley’s principal accuser, had almost no criticism of the content of the documents at issue, Seán Guerin SC, for Mr Buckley, said.
The inspectors have “failed in a marked way to strike a balance” between Mr Buckley and Mr Pitt in the preparation of draft statements in the investigation, he said.
Counsel was opening his application to have appointment of the inspectors set aside, or for a direction they recuse themselves from further involvement in the investigation, on grounds of alleged objective bias.
Inspectors Seán Gillane and Robert Fleck, whose investigation is continuing but has been hampered in some respects by the Covid-19 pandemic, refute the claims of objective bias and argue the application is “fundamentally misconceived”.
The inspectors were appointed by the High Court in September 2018 on the application of the ODCE, following the ODCE’s year long investigation into matters raised in protected disclosures made in 2016 and 2017 by Mr Pitt and former INM chief financial officer Mr Preston.
The ODCE raised concerns about issues including an alleged data breach at INM in 2014. That allegedly involved data being exported from the jurisdiction and interrogated by third parties in what Mr Buckley, who stepped down as INM Chairman in March 2018, has said was a cost-cutting exercise called Operation Quantum.
On Tuesday, Mr Guerin said Mr Buckley’s application was “reluctantly” brought, particularly because both inspectors are of impeccable character, but it had to be seen in the context of Mr Buckley’s right to his good name.
The inspectors were appointed to investigate a range of matters at INM which the director of corporate enforcement (ODCE) had said may be “suggestive of wrongdoing”, counsel said. This was not proof of wrongdoing but, despite that, Mr Buckley had suffered reputational damage.
Mr Buckley had become chairman of INM when it was “sinking in a massive pool of debt” and, under his leadership, the entire debt was paid off and the company became cash positive and outward looking, counsel said.
While Mr Buckley was not claiming that was all his doing, he would normally be entitled to have reputational benefit from it, counsel said. That reputation was “essentially destroyed” by the allegations made in the application for appointment of the inspectors.
Mr Buckley had seen the inspection process as a means of “righting the wrongs done to him” and has co-operated extensively with the inspectors with that in mind.
However, matters in the investigation had developed to a point where Mr Buckley considered he had no alternative but to bring this application.
His concerns included about summaries by the inspectors of extensive evidence gathered by them to date. Mr Buckley believed the inspectors had essentially prepared a draft which was unfavourable to him and favourable to his accusers, particularly Mr Pitt.
The hearing continues.