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Sean Fitzpatrick 'free to go' as judge directs not guilty verdict

A judge has told former banker and bankrupt Sean Fitzpatrick he is a free man after directing a jury to find him not guilty of fraud.

The ex-chairman of the defunct Anglo Irish Bank had been on trial for the last 126 days accused of "artificially reducing" personal loans for a few weeks around the end of the financial year so their full value was not shown in accounts.

After the longest criminal trial in Irish history, the former bank boss, who always denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty, returned to the Circuit Criminal Court in Dublin for one last time on Wednesday morning to hear the formal acquittal.

The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), set up in 2001 to crack down on white collar crime, has said it fully accepts a judge's criticism of its investigation into the former Anglo chief's loans.

The watchdog accepted witnesses were coached when giving statements during the investigation and that their evidence was contaminated.

Judge John Aylmer told the jury that he would not repeat a lengthy ruling he gave in their absence on Tuesday when he told Mr Fitzpatrick he would be acquitted.

"The prosecution having confirmed that there is nothing else against you, you are free to go," the judge told the former bank boss.

Mr Fitzpatrick, who was supported in court by his daughter Sarah, said: "Thank you."

The ex-banker, who built Anglo over 30 years to become one of the biggest lending institutions in Ireland, declined to comment on the case as he left the courts but said he celebrated the verdict on Tuesday night.

"I've said everything I had to say yesterday, thank you very much," he said.

"I don't want to be rude but I'm not going to speak or make any comment."

After being told on Tuesday that he would be acquitted, Mr Fitzpatrick described the trial as very long, tiring and difficult.

The 68-year-old of Whitshed Road, Greystones, Co Wicklow had pleaded not guilty to more than two dozen offences under company law including making a misleading, false or deceptive statement to auditors and furnishing false information between 2002 to 2007.

Judge Aylmer gave the jury a brief outline of why he was directing the not guilty verdict.

"If any of you have been reading the newspapers or the internet contrary to my admonitions I can forgive you in that regard," he said.

"I've made a decision in a matter of law that the prosecution has not established a sufficient case to go to the jury."

The judge said: "The thrust of what I've decided is that there was an investigation of the charges against Mr Fitzpatrick which fell short of that which an accused person is entitled to."

He added: "There are shortcomings in the evidence in relation to each of the charges which meant that there was an insufficient case."

The jurors, who heard the case over eight months, have been excused from jury service for life.

The ODCE said it accepted witnesses from auditors Ernst and Young were coached while making statements and their evidence was contaminated.

The former banker's acquittal sparked criticism from opposition politicians over the handling of the investigation, including a call for the head of the agency Ian Drennan to resign.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, which does not normally discuss the outcome of cases, declined to comment.

This was the second time Mr Fitzpatrick stood trial over his personal loans from Anglo.

The first case collapsed in 2015 after it was disclosed that documents held by the ODCE had been shredded by one of its officials.

Mr Fitzpatrick was previously found not guilty by a jury after being charged over multi-million loans that Anglo gave to major clients, known as the Maple 10, to buy shares in the bank as its stock market price collapsed.

Anglo went bust eight years ago and cost the Irish state about 29 billion euro.

Later, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said a report on the shortcomings in the case would be sent to Government by the ODCE.

"I did not spend the last six years as head of government making very difficult decisions in a situation where again the allegation will be of white-collar crime, that people can take away, that nobody is guilty and nothing is being done about it," he said.

Micheal Martin, Fianna Fail leader, said the outcome of the trial was a damning indictment of the ODCE.

"This has been, by any measure, a catastrophic, systemic failure," he said.

"The reputation of the ODCE is in shreds."

Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein president, called for the ODCE to be replaced. His party's justice spokesman, Jonathan O'Brien, called for Mr Drennan, who has headed the ODCE since 2012, to answer questions on the prosecution at the Oireachtas Justice Committee.

"This was a high-profile case that cost the state an enormous amount of money and nothing has come of it," Mr O'Brien said.

"The allegations being made are severe and public deserve answers."

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin described the failures in the case as "manifest incompetence", which he said "beggars belief".

Following the calls for a report on the case, the ODCE said it was excluded from large portions of the trial on the judge's orders.

"Consequently, the ODCE is not at this time in possession of complete information as regards all aspects of the trial, including legal arguments made by the prosecution and defence, or the resultant rulings delivered by the judge," it said.

The ODCE has asked the DPP to hand over transcripts of the trial in order to compile a report.

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