The presence of two one-time Masters of the Universe in the one courtroom ensured a packed attendance at the trial of three former Anglo Irish Bank executives yesterday.
Although Seán Quinn and Seán FitzPatrick are no longer kingpins in their respective worlds of business and banking, it was yet a momentous reunion of sorts between the bankrupt pair.
The two men whose businesses were, in the words of one defence barrister, “joined at the hip,” certainly keep their distance these days. However, Mr Quinn was required to pass just inches from his former banker as he took his place in the witness box in Court 19 yesterday.
The 66-year-old businessman cast a stony glare in the direction of the former Anglo chairman, whose gaze was fixed elsewhere, thus avoiding the potential of interesting eye contact.
In evidence, Mr Quinn outlined his reluctance to sell his interest built up in Anglo via contracts for difference because of his firm belief that the bank’s falling share price would rebound.
The trial heard him describe the now defunct bank as a “marvellous institution” and his view that the investment in CfDs was “a very conservative approach”.
“We were buying into a blue-chip Irish bank that was regulated by the State.”
He explained the purchase of CfDs was part of a three-pronged strategy whereby the Quinn group invested in manufacturing, property and blue-chip companies.
The Fermanagh-born entrepreneur said he found it hard to believe how Anglo’s share price had fallen by around 40% at a time when it was reporting 46% growth in its profits, which he branded a “phenomenal result”.
“The mathematics didn’t add up,” said Mr Quinn, who revealed that his group had lost a total of €3.2bn on Anglo.
Margin calls (to maintain his interest in Anglo) were coming every two to three weeks, including one demand for €300m, although Mr Quinn insisted paying such money wasn’t initially a problem.
Under cross-examination by Brendan Grehan, defending Pat Whelan, Mr Quinn was reminded about his former status as Ireland’s richest man.
“I read that,” he remarked wistfully. To much amusement in the packed courtroom, he declared himself unaware that he was also named the 12th richest person in Britain and Ireland in the Sunday Times rich list. “It was never an important criteria for me.”
Equally, he seemed surprised to learn he also featured in the Forbes Top 200 wealthiest individuals on the planet. “How times can change,” said Quinn, allowing himself the wryest of grins.
The trial heard how the motto of the Quinn group was “strength through diversity”, a sentiment which Mr Grehan observed made a lot of sense. “It did then,” countered the witness.
The man who dominated rich lists less than a decade ago remained phlegmatic about his fate even when reminded he had also lost heavily during the dotcom bubble.
Shrugging his shoulders at the recollection, Mr Quinn remarked: “It wasn’t a big deal at the time.”
Asked about subsequently “dipping his toes” in CfDs, Mr Quinn again recognised the darkly comic nature of his downfall, observing that “the whole head, neck, feet and heels” had ended up in such investments.
Unapologetic about his resolve to hold onto his investment in Anglo to recoup his money, Mr Quinn frequently referred to how furious he was at the pressure placed on him by Anglo to unwind his position. He was warned on several occasions by Mr Grehan not to use his evidence to grandstand about other litigation between himself and Anglo.
Insisting that Anglo executives were aware as far back as late 2007 that the bank was in trouble, Mr Quinn said he wouldn’t have bought one share if he had similar information.
Asked how he’d feel if former Anglo chief executive David Drumm hadn’t been willing to lend him money at the end of 2007, Mr Quinn replied: “I’d be a happy man today.”
The response provoked much laughter from the public gallery who were quickly rebuked by Judge Martin Nolan.
As he departed the witness box after more than three hours of evidence, the judge wished Mr Quinn the “best of luck to you”.
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