Two landmark verdicts have served to restore public confidence in both the judiciary and the legal process. Firstly, the acquittal on Wednesday of the former non-executive chairman of Anglo Irish Bank chairman, Seán FitzPatrick, who was found not guilty on all 10 charges brought against him. That his hands were found to be clean illustrates the objective nature of the judgement despite the fact that he was the self-described public face of the very bank synonymous with Ireland’s fiscal collapse.
An understandable sense of hope in the public mind was fulfilled yesterday when guilty verdicts were brought against two executive directors of the bank, Pat Whelan, the former head of lending in Ireland, and William McAteer, its former finance director.
Any misgivings that may have existed about the likely outcome of this case have proved utterly groundless. After nearly 17 hours of deliberation by the jury of seven women and five men, the two executives were unanimously found guilty of 10 charges of giving illegal loans of €45 million each to a group of businessmen called the Maple Ten. They were, however, found not guilty on six charges each of giving loans to members of the Quinn family. Both had denied the charges.
The Maple Ten affair was engineered to unwind the 29.4% control of the bank built up by one of Ireland’s richest men, the now bankrupt Seán Quinn, who had amassed the investment through financial devices called contracts for difference. The scheme involved the 10 investors being loaned a total of €450m by Anglo to buy around 10% of the shares controlled by Mr Quinn.
Long-running and complex, the Anglo Irish Bank trial was the first such hearing under a law designed to outlaw illegal lending by a company with the aim of enabling people to invest in its shares. That goes to the heart of the verdict against the two executives who will hear their fate at a sentence hearing on April 28, after which an appeal is likely. Mr FitzPatrick will face other charges relating to his personal borrowings from Anglo. Another issue yet to be resolved concerns financial transactions between Anglo and the former Irish Nationwide Building Society.
Tragically, the Anglo Irish Bank scandal is a squalid tale of modern Ireland. Reflecting a form of madness, it was a saga of greed and excess, it was the backdrop to a grubby quagmire involving reckless bankers, out-of-control developers driven by naked avarice, and the failed policies of incompetent politicians who lost the run of themselves. Whatever political influence may have shaped the light-touch financial regulation then in vogue could yet be brought to light in the courts.