The jury in the trial of three former Anglo Irish Bank executives over the alleged unlawful provision of loans for the purchase of shares has been told that it is making legal history.
Sean Fitzpatrick, 65, the former chairman and one-time chief executive of the now defunct bank, former finance director Willie McAteer, 63, and former chief financial officer Pat Whelan, 51, face a total of 16 charges each.
They are alleged to have arranged €451m of loans for clients to buy shares in the bank in 2008.
The three men appeared before court 19 of the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin for a trial that is expected to last four months and be one of the longest and most complex criminal cases in Irish history.
The three former bankers have pleaded not guilty.
Opening the case for the prosecution, senior counsel for the State Paul O’Higgins told the court that it is the first time 15 jurors have been asked to hear a criminal trial.
Only 12 will be selected at the end of the trial to return a verdict.
“This is the first time that process has occurred in the history of the state,” the lawyer told the jury.
“Obviously every one of you maybe, and I suppose every one of you on the balance of chance, will be among the 12 to retire but three won’t and that may be a very frustrating thing for those who don’t, but maybe it will be a liberating thing for those who don’t.
“You are the 15 judges for every matter of fact in this case.”
Vast amounts of technical and financial evidence will be put before the jury, with 24 million documents and 800 witness statements due to be examined.
Fitzpatrick, of Whitshed Road, Greystones, Co Wicklow; McAteer, of Auburn Villas, Rathgar, south Dublin; and Whelan, of Coast Road, Malahide, Co Dublin, have been charged with 16 counts of providing unlawful financial assistance to individuals in July 2008 for the purchase of shares in the bank.
They are charged under section 60 of the Companies Act.
The alleged offence involved loans to the family of bankrupt former billionaire Sean Quinn, including to his wife Patricia and son Sean junior, and 10 clients.
Among the witnesses due to give evidence are the Quinns, former financial regulator Pat Neary, former Central Bank of Ireland governor John Hurley and businessman Paddy McKillen.
Other developer clients and former Anglo executives are also on the list.
The bank was ultimately nationalised in January 2009.
The Government stepped in following commitments made the previous September under the bank guarantee scheme and the bailout cost €29bn.
Anglo was subsequently rebranded the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation and then liquidated last year.
Before the trial broke for lunch, Mr O'Higgins SC, prosecuting, began his opening speech and told the jury that companies were a product of the industrial revolution.
They allowed people to get together to take risks and have led to great employment and wealth. He said that companies could do great good as well as great damage.
A company allowed individuals to take risks that they would not be able to take individually.
Companies are treated are legal persons in law, he has told the jury.
These statements are part of an opening speech by prosecuting counsel and are not evidence.
He said that a company’s shares are part of its stock and the value people place on a share designate the value of a company.
The board of directors in nearly all companies have an entitlement to say yes or no in the last analysis to anything. They are elected to run the company.
The three accused were all officers of the company, as former directors of Anglo Irish Bank. He said if a company commits an offence the officers of the company may become liable.
Update at 2.50pm: There are two categories of charges - the first 16 charges are against all three accused and the last seven are against Mr Whelan only.
The first set say that in July 2009 actions were taken by the accused that were contrary to section 60 of the Companies Act, 1963.
Mr O'Higgins SC is telling the jury that the presumption of evidence is a bedrock of the law which applies in favour of every citizen that comes before a court in Ireland.
That means the prosecution bares the obligation of proving beyond a reasonable doubt every element of every crime. He said they bare the onus or burden of proof until the end of the case.
He said the accused are innocent until proven guilty and the jury must approach the case with this in mind.
He said that the proof of guilt in a criminal case is not based the balance of probabilities. It is based on the jury being satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt.