Jury out in Anglo bank fraud trial
The jury in a fraud trial of three banking executives for a 625 million euro loans-for-shares deal at the defunct Anglo Irish Bank have been told to leave behind prejudices about the lender when deliberating.
Sean 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 providing unlawful financial assistance to a handpicked group of long-standing Anglo clients in July 2008 to buy shares.
Charging the jury after 43 days of evidence in the hotly anticipated trial and a tale of boom-to-bust Ireland, Judge Martin Nolan said that while Anglo is the most infamous of the Irish banks, it is not on trial.
"Whatever prejudices you might have for or against bankers you must leave at the courtroom door of the jury room door," he said.
"You are under sworn duty to try this case fairly and impartially without regard to any prejudice you might have or ones you may have in general, or ones you have on Anglo."
The jury at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court began deliberating at 3.12pm.
Judge Nolan told the jury - only 12 of the original 15 selected to hear the case will deliberate - to be dispassionate, to leave emotion behind and to put their critical faculties into gear.
"You are not entitled to visit on the accused men, the financial calamity of the country... or what has occurred since, in layman's terms, the crash of 2008, that would be incredibly unfair and wrong. You cannot do that," he said.
"You must decide on the case before you."
The scheme the three bankers are alleged to have authorised or permitted involved hundreds of 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.
Whelan and McAteer have also pleaded not guilty to six counts of providing unlawful financial assistance to six members of the Quinn family as part of the unwinding scheme.
Judge Nolan warned the jury they had to convict beyond reasonable doubt and that they have to base their decision on evidence from the prosecution.
"This is a very important decision. Any criminal conviction for any party has serious consequences. There is no second chance here for you," he told them.
"You can't ring up the registrar or your fellow jurors if you have their phone numbers and say I'm having second thoughts here or doubts since you delivered your verdict."
In its tenth week and with a larger than usual jury during 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 five of Sean Quinn's children and his wife Patricia and the so-called Maple 10 - developers and investors known personally by senior Anglo bankers and two of whom the court heard were worth "north of a billion".
On the direction of Judge Nolan, FitzPatrick was found not guilty of six charges relating to 170 million euro (£140 million) 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.
Outlining the background to the loans, Judge Nolan told the jury the first Anglo knew about the scale of the Quinn holding was at a meeting with him in the Ardboyne Hotel in Navan, Co Meath when the astounding level of the bet was revealed. At that stage Mr Quinn held about 24% of the bank's stock in CfDs from several international investment banks.
From then until March the following year, when the St Patrick's Day Massacre wiped out a fifth of Anglo's stock market value, hundreds of millions was lent to the Quinns to meet margin calls on the failing CfD bets.
"There was a terror in Anglo that if all the shares come on to the market as a result of Sean Quinn being knocked over that it would have a calamitous effect on the share price and what was needed for the bank was an orderly unwinding," the judge said.
"It is also in evidence that a calamitous collapse in share price would have a huge effect on the bank and probably the entire banking system and that's what the orderly unwind was there to take care of."