More than a touch of Hercule Poirot about bankers’ committee appearance

JUST when you thought our sleaze-splattered banking sector could hardly get much murkier, up pops a money mystery worthy of Hercule Poirot.

The AIB chiefs summoned before an Oireachtas committee yesterday did not exactly act like characters straight out of Agatha Christie’s Poirot novel, Dumb Witness, but self-appointed chief detective Senator Shane Ross clearly believed there was more to this than met the eye.

The plot pivots on a character, the outgoing AIB chief executive Eugene Sheehy would only refer to as “a Belgium national living in Switzerland”, whom the bank had mistaken for a member of the mega-wealthy Furstenberg brewing dynasty.

As we can safely rule out the pious Poirot for this role, it leaves us with the only other famous Belgium – TinTin. But surely the quiffed hero and his little white dog, Snowy, would have more sense than to get involved with the casino wheel of Irish banking?

With delicious understatement, Mr Sheehy ventured: “This was not our proudest moment.”

It all centred on money-laundering allegations exposed by former AIB auditor Eugene McErlean, who blew the whistle at a previous meeting of the Economic and Regulatory Affairs Committee, claiming that in 2001 the bank’s subsidiary, Goodbody Stockbrokers, was routing clients’ shares to the Caribbean tax-haven of Nevis, then a “black spot” with which Irish financial types were not allowed to trade.

Goodbody claimed it was dealing in shares through the Furstenberg beer company, but in reality was using the Isle of Man account of the mystery Belgium who, it is believed, profited to the tune of IR£800,000.

Mr Sheehy insisted the practices were valid at the time, the way it was executed was “unacceptable” and “embarrassing”, but AIB made no money from it.

Independent Senator Ross was not impressed. In the manner of all the great detectives he laid out his theory to those he had especially assembled in the room. The Caribbean trading arrangement was a sham which allowed Goodbody to deal as principal in the shares of AIB, he claimed.

McErlean had been disgracefully fired in order to carry the can as the “fall guy,” he said. With his voice building into a shouting rage of indignation, he alleged AIB had legal advice they were in breach of the Companies Act.

Mr Sheehy denied the charges, but said he did not know if they would be found in breach.

Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd spat out the loaded bullet-shaped word “GUBU” as a parting shot.

Not so much Murder On The Orient Express, as A Quick Killing On The Irish Financial Gravy Train.

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