Belfast Telegraph

No baying for blood, jurors warned

Jurors in the Anglo Irish Bank fraud trial over a 625 million euro loans-for-shares deal have been told not to bay for the blood of bankers to satisfy public outrage.

In the final stages of one of the most awaited trials of boom-to-bust Ireland, a lawyer for one the lender's top executives appealed to the jury not to buckle under the pressure of a "mob" seeking revenge for the crash.

Brendan Grehan, for Pat Whelan, former head of lending at Anglo, told the jury to detach themselves from the idea that they were there to tick a box for a fair trial and then hang the accused.

"You are not spectators. You must divorce yourself from that kind of thinking ... that you are somehow here to satisfy the baying for blood from the mob," Mr Grehan said.

Lawyers for ex-Anglo executives, including 35-year veteran of the lender, Sean FitzPatrick, said that the case was not about finding blame for a banking collapse that brought Ireland's economy to it knees.

After 42 days of evidence at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court three defence lawyers have been putting their cases in what is one of the longest and most complex criminal trials in Irish legal history.

Michael O'Higgins, defending FitzPatrick, lashed the fraud squad investigation into the loans-for-shares deal at the now defunct bank.

He said that from FitzPatrick's arrest at 7am one morning in March 2010 and in the four years since, no-one could be found to dispute his statement that he did not interfere in Anglo's day-to-day business after stepping down as chief executive in 2004.

"There is a sea of detail in this case but there's a very small rockpool of it relates to Mr FitzPatrick," he said.

In a wide-ranging submission, Mr O'Higgins hit out at the way the fraud investigation was conducted and accused gardai of taking up "the cudgels of the man on the barstool".

He said FitzPatrick, chairman and non-executive director at the time of the loans, was the face of Anglo and ultimately he was the only one of seven non-executive directors arrested - five others made statements through corporate lawyers and one other was interviewed under caution.

"Instead these statements of vagueness were accepted at face value. There was no follow-up. No shaking the tree," Mr O'Higgins said.

The jury was told that gardai did not search the financial regulator's offices during their investigation but relied on a gentlemen's agreement that relevant documents would be provided to the inquiry.

And Mr O'Higgins said the prosecution have admitted that FitzPatrick was singled out in the case and if an allegation like that had been suggested by a defence lawyer, it would have been branded a conspiracy theory.

FitzPatrick, 65, from Greystones, Co Wicklow, Pat Whelan, 51, of Malahide, Co Dublin, and William McAteer, 63, of Rathgar, Dublin, all pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of providing unlawful financial assistance to a handpicked group of long-standing Anglo clients in July 2008 to buy shares.

The plot involved millions being lent out to unwind a secret 28% shareholding built by bankrupt former business tycoon Sean Quinn in a doomed 2.4 billion euro (£1.9 billion) punt that Anglo's share price would rise.

The select clients included the Quinn family and the so-called Maple 10 - developers and investors known personally by senior Anglo bankers and two of whom were worth "north of a billion".

Whelan and McAteer have pleaded not guilty to six counts of providing unlawful financial assistance to six members of the Quinn family as part of the unwinding scheme.

In his closing argument, Mr Grehan revealed Whelan grew up in inner city Dublin and joined Allied Irish Banks when he left school.

Nine years later he moved to Anglo were his diligence and hard work saw him rise through the ranks despite no college education or qualifications in chartered accountancy or law, the court heard.

Mr Grehan claimed his client had been acting under instruction from chief executive David Drumm when the deal was arranged and that he was told compliance and regulatory issues had been checked

He described him as: "Someone who has never shirked from his position of involvement in this matter."

Whelan also wrote a report on the loans-for-shares scheme in January 2009 after the bank was nationalised and was kept on by the Government until he resigned nearly 12 months later.

Mr Grehan said the trial had an element of Hamlet without the Prince with Mr Drumm in the US and not facing prosecution.

Earlier, as the prosecution closed its case, the jury heard the plot to unwind the secret Quinn shareholding was topsy-turvy and paperwork was bogus.

"Almost everything about this scheme made it a scheme obviously and spectacularly not in the ordinary course of business," senior counsel Paul O'Higgins said.

"What the prosecution says in this case was that everything was topsy-turvy.

"A lot of what was put out in the documentation was bogus."

FitzPatrick was yesterday found not guilty by direction of trial Judge Martin Nolan to six charges of providing loans illegally to the Quinn family.

Whelan was also found not guilty, also by the judge's direction, on seven separate charges of being privy to the fraudulent alteration of loan facility letters to seven individuals in October 2008.

The trial, now in its 10th week and with a larger than usual jury due its duration, centres on whether the 625 million euro of loans made by Anglo to buy the Quinn contracts for difference (CfDs) were in the ordinary course of business.

Under section 60 of Ireland's Companies Act, the jury must also decide if the three accused authorised or permitted the loans to be provided.

The three accused are on bail.

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