Gardaí have managed to recover over €20 million stolen from businesses through fraud over the past five years, according to the head of the Garda National Economic and Cyber Crime Bureaus.

Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan said the single biggest amount that has been recovered during that period was €4.3m, although he did not say what the case involved.

"Your companies can be a victim today," he said. "It is not just small businesses, its not just someone coming into the finance office that works three hours a day or five hours a day."

"I can tell you some of the biggest companies in this country have been effected by what we call business email compromise. And no matter how good their systems are, criminals and the criminals who work in this whole area are much better than your IT people and much better than your financial people, I hate to say it."

Addressing the A&L Goodbody Corporate Crime Conference in Dublin, he said that when he took over his current role five years ago, there was a huge reluctance among businesses to report economic crime.

This was because companies feared the reputation damage that might be incurred and because they were concerned about whether the gardaí could be trusted to deal with the issue in a sensitive manner.

Since then, the top Garda said things have moved on to a place where most businesses managers now have the courage to report such cases to the force.

"Overall I think we have moved the goal posts from where we were to where we are now, and a lot of companies are putting their trust in us," he said.

"I understand why you are terrified that it will get out there that you have lost a lot of money."

"Some companies and most companies now are saying we have lost money as a result of an attack on our company, be it a cyber attack, cyber enabled attack, or a straightforward fraud, be it internal or external."

"And in reality it will, what I say to most companies, it will come out some day when you have to tell your board or tell your investors that this has happened."

He said his advice to all firms is that they are better off coming out and telling An Garda Síochana if it is a crime and the Data Protection Commissioner if it is a breach and deal with it.

Chief Supt Lordan said his units are also dealing a lot more now with companies where there has been an internal fraud, which in the past may not have been reported.

"I would urge you that you really need to deal with all those people internally because you are only passing on the problem if you don't do it."

He said time is really of the essence if people want to get money back from criminals who have stolen it. 

The window for doing this two years ago used to be 24-48 hours he said. But in the last month his team has recovered $500,000 from one company seven days after it had transferred out of Ireland, he added.

"I couldn’t believe we got it back," he said.

Another amount of money had gone to Hong Kong and was recovered almost two weeks later, he said.

He said if companies are reporting thefts or attempted thefts of this kind to gardaí it is important that they make sure his office has been told, because bank account numbers can be used to trace perpetrators in order to stop other victims from being hit.

Head of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), Detective Chief Superintendent, Pat Clavin, said in recent times his team has found lots of instances where criminals are investing in the motor trade.

"If something gets too big too quick that is probably a tell-tale sign that one should be suspicious," he said.

"We find that there is maybe a large cash injection early on in the business or it might not be necessarily a cash injection, it might be a stock injection - so suddenly 150 cars arrive from somewhere that is not exactly clear."

The CAB chief also said that some gyms, nail bars, barber shops, hairdressers and other cash based businesses are being used by criminals to launder money. 

Det Chief Supt Pat Lordan said his units have seen a lot of trade based money laundering recently, where criminal gangs use overseas trade to launder cash because they cannot open bank accounts or do it here in Ireland.

He said this is no longer fictitious trade, but now involves actual goods. 

"That's a problem for all of you because if you have people, very legitimate companies that are trading to some maybe riskier countries, can you stand up and say the customers I am selling my lorry load of bananas or potatoes or whatever it is is legitimate and the money he is paying you is legitimate money?"

Speaking about the Central Bank’s supervisory work, its Director General Financial Conduct, Derville Rowland, said the bank has a baseline expectation that firms have an open and cooperative relationship with it.

She said it expects a relationship of total candor as a starting point and that required action is met on time and done in full.

Ms Rowland said some firms take a slightly obstructive approach in some investigations, and some of their legal advisors think if there is then compromise there will be credit for cooperation.

But there is no credit for cooperation if there is obstruction in the first instance she said.

She added that it is important that businesses think about making a fulsome admission at an early stage to save time and cost, if they have done something wrong.

"Regulatory authorities and agencies are not going to go away," she said.

"We start an investigation and if it is a serious investigation, which they are, we are resolute in our pursuit of these matters."

Ms Rowland said every business should own their own culture but as regulator the Central Bank expects to see that it is a risk conscious culture, with consumers at the centre.

"Tone from the top is how it really works, nobody shows leadership from the neck down," she said.

A culture of accountability also has to be embedded in technology, she added, as more and more services are being delivered by machines. 

Director of Corporate Enforcement, Ian Drennan, spoke about the need for organisations to be aware of risks around incentives.

"I think boards have to be very careful about how they structure those things," he said.

"Thought has to be given to the sort of pressures it puts on people."

Accounting scandals often happen because people are under enormous pressure to meet targets, he added.

"Those are toxic cultures within which people have to operate and drive people...to do bad things," he claimed.