Ireland’s one-time richest man Sean Quinn has said he was a fool in losing €3.2bn gambling on Anglo Irish Bank shares, a court has been told.
The 67-year-old said he initially only meant to make modest investments in the stock but ended up using nine brokers to buy almost 30% of the now defunct lender.
“At the time we only talked about putting our toe in the water but I’m afraid the whole feet, head, neck and heels went in,” Mr Quinn said.
The fraud trial of three former Anglo executives over alleged illegal loans for share trades heard the bankrupt former billionaire claim the bank had struck a “sweetheart deal” with investors to unwind his position in July 2008.
The bank’s former chairman and one-time chief executive Sean FitzPatrick, 65, former chief risk officer Willie McAteer, 63, and former managing director of lending Pat Whelan, 51, deny 16 charges of providing unlawful loans for clients to buy shares in the bank.
Mr Quinn, of Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, repeatedly told Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that he had been a victim in the collapse of the bank.
He claimed that Anglo chiefs knew the full extent of looming troubles at the bank in late 2007, shortly after he told David Drumm, the then chief executive, and FitzPatrick about the scale of his holding, but they set about lending hundreds of millions.
“What I’m saying is that in 2007-08 we lost €3.2bn through the Anglo fiasco,” he said.
“I was a fool. I was a fool to believe. I got a right beating over the last few years.”
Mr Quinn’s evidence was interpersed with a touch of gallows humour over his losses which at one stage prompted a blunt warning from Judge Martin Nolan to the large numbers packed into the court that laughter was not permitted.
He dismissed official correspondence between the bank and the Quinn Group which said it would sell hotels and property, including in Prague, Russia and Ukraine, to pay almost half of a €1.2bn debt in 2008.
Mr Quinn said the letters were a sham and written purely for the benefit of the regulator and Anglo’s own records.
“That was never going to happen,” he said. “I’m very unequivocal in what I’m saying. I’m saying very clearly that was never going to happen.”
Mr Quinn said Anglo was part of a three-pronged approach to his business empire and building an inheritance for his family – investing in blue chip companies, manufacturing and property.
“We thought it was a marvellous institution,” he said.
Mr Quinn, joined at the courts by son Sean Jnr, daughter Brenda and son-in-law Niall McPartland, said he was in business for 40 years and always dealt honestly and honourably with people. He said he never had a legal battle with anyone until the fall-out from his Anglo investment.
He was once the 12th richest man in the UK and Ireland, according to the Sunday Times rich list, and also in the Forbes top 200 richest people in the world.
“It was never an important criteria for me,” he said.
The court heard that by December 2007 the Quinn Group was haemorrhaging money trying to meet the cost of losses on the secret share deals.
After borrowing hundreds of millions over the next eight months from Anglo the bank’s money had also dried up, the court heard.
Mr Quinn said that Anglo chiefs – including Mr Drumm, who is living in the US and is not on trial – made it clear in a series of meetings that part of the secret 29.3% stake in Anglo was being sold off in ordinary shares to investors in July 2008.
The former tycoon said he was furious and went to lawyers in London to threaten legal action against Anglo.
“We were just wondering was there some sweetheart deal,” the former tycoon said. “It certainly was not for our benefit.”
Mr Quinn’s shareholding was built up by a Portuguese-registered company, Bazzely Ltd, which was part of the Quinn empire.
It used complex trading derivatives called contracts for difference (CFDs), which at the time did not have to be publicly divulged and essentially amounted to undeclared bets that the share price would increase.
Mr Quinn said one of the first payments to cover losses on the trades – €400m in December 2007 – was Anglo investing in itself using the Quinn name.
The three accused pleaded not guilty to providing unlawful financial assistance to individuals in July 2008 for the purchase of shares in the bank, contrary to Section 60 of the Companies Act.
Whelan has also pleaded not guilty to a further seven charges of being privy to the fraudulent alteration of loan facility letters to seven individuals.
Lawyers for FitzPatrick and Whelan have said they accept the loans were made but they deny any illegality.
FitzPatrick, of Whitshed Road, Greystones, Co Wicklow; McAteer, of Auburn Villas, Rathgar, south Dublin; and Whelan, of Coast Road, Malahide, Co Dublin, are on bail.
The trial is expected to run until the end of May.