Belfast Telegraph

Anglo case jury's 'buttons pressed'

Jurors in the Anglo Irish Bank fraud trial over a 625 million euro loans-for-shares deal have been told their prejudices are being used.

In a closing submission on day 43 of one of Ireland's longest and most complex criminal cases, a lawyer for 35-year veteran of the lender, Sean FitzPatrick, said the prosecution case was playing on people's attitudes towards bankers.

Michael O'Higgins, senior counsel, told the jury at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that it is right for there to be tensions between banks and their customers.

But he warned: "You are being tapped on your prejudices, ladies and gentlemen. You are having buttons pressed."

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 scheme 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 punt that Anglo's share price would rise.

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.

Mr O'Higgins said there had been a distinct change in attitude to bank bosses during Ireland's Celtic Tiger years from one of a bogeyman writing nasty letters to everyone being friends.

He said it was the opposite of what happened on the streets of Dublin in 1916 when the leaders of the Easter Rising were marched out of the GPO on O'Connell Street in front of angry crowds but later made heroes and martyrs when they were executed.

The barrister said: "There's then and there's now, and sometimes then things bear a particular hue, and subsequently they change.

"Everybody was gloriously happy until the climate changed. It's sort of like 1916 in reverse. When the leaders were taken out of the GPO they were virtually spat on and jeered at by the people of Dublin.

"History is being rewritten on this."

Mr O'Higgins said that when the July 2008 loans-for-shares deal was finalised the bank, the financial regulator and a government committee were pleased that a resolution to the doomed Quinn investment had been secured.

"Everybody is relieved and happy and did not have a problem," he said. "In light of subsequent events in light of what I have described as vicious, unfocused anger, this thing began to be looked at in a different light and the ground started to shift."

The fraud trial is in its final stages in Dublin, with defence lawyers making closing submissions to the jury.

In its tenth week and with a larger than usual jury due its duration, the case centres on whether the loans made by Anglo to buy the Quinn CfDs were in the ordinary course of business. 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".

On the direction of Judge Martin Nolan, FitzPatrick was found not guilty of six charges relating to 170 million euro of loans to the Quinns.

Whelan was 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 state's case alleges the accused were involved in providing unlawful financial assistance to individuals in July 2008 to buy shares in the bank, contrary to Section 60 of Ireland's Companies Act. It is legal for companies to provide finance in the ordinary course of business, but it is alleged the Anglo share deal was extraordinary.

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