June 11, 2019 / 2:43 PM / 13 days ago

Ireland pledges 'utter integrity' at central bank amid new chief's inquiry

FILE PHOTO: Ireland's Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe arrives at a European Financial Forum event in Dublin, Ireland February 13, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland must have a central bank of “utter integrity”, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said on Tuesday, responding to an inquiry in New Zealand into Ireland’s incoming central bank chief Gabriel Makhlouf.

Ireland appointed New Zealand Treasury chief Makhlouf as its new central bank governor on May 1, shortly before he was caught up in a national furor over early and unauthorized access to sensitive budget information.

New Zealand’s treasury said it was hacked after the main opposition party published details of the much-anticipated budget before its full release. Police said they did not believe the information was accessed illegally.

New Zealand’s main opposition party called for Makhlouf to resign and the country’s State Services Commission last week launched an investigation into Makhlouf’s actions and public statements about the causes of the budget leak.

Makhlouf, who is due to take over at Ireland’s central bank and sit on the Governing Council of the European Central Bank on Sept. 1, believed he acted in good faith at all times, State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes said.

In Ireland, one of the smaller opposition parties, Labour, has called for Makhlouf’s appointment to be suspended pending the results of that investigation.

“I’m very conscious here that an inquiry is underway in relation to a political issue in another country, I don’t want to comment on that inquiry,” Donohoe told national broadcaster RTE in his first public remarks about the controversy.

“I’m very conscious that we need to have utter integrity and utter independence in the central bank and that is what will happen.”

Asked by reporters if there was a means for the government to walk back on its decision, if it felt it needed to, Donohoe said the legislation that governs the appointment leaves the option open to government to make a change in the case of “very, very grave misconduct.”

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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