Anglo executives trial begins

Pat Whelan, former Anglo executive and one of three defendants.

One of the biggest trials in Irish legal history begins today when three former bankers face charges of trying to inflate the share price of the now-defunct Anglo Irish Bank.

Sean FitzPatrick, the former chairman and one-time chief executive, former finance director Willie McAteer and former chief financial officer Pat Whelan face a total of 16 charges.

The three men are due before court 19 of the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin for a trial that is expected to last four months – one of the longest-running criminal trials in the country's history.

Vast amounts of technical and financial evidence will be put before a jury of 12 people with case management hearings having been told there are 24 million documents and 800 witness statements.

An IT system will be used to electronically display documents during the trial while jurors will also be given laptops to view material.

The prosecution will open its case in front of Judge Martin Nolan at the Circuit Criminal Court this morning.

Due to the expected level of public interest, a special viewing room is being opened in the Phoenix Park courts complex to allow people to watch the trial via video link.

FitzPatrick, 64, of Whitshed Road, Greystones, Co Wicklow; McAteer, 62, of Auburn Villas, Rathgar, south Dublin; and Whelan, 50, of Coast Road, Malahide, Co Dublin, have been charged with 16 counts of providing unlawful financial assistance to individuals in July 2008 to buy shares in the bank.

All three entered not guilty pleas last Friday.

The maximum sentence for each offence is five years in jail, with the lower end of the sentencing scale a fine of €3,100.

The charges are linked to alleged loans of €451m to the family of bankrupt former billionaire Sean Quinn, including his wife Patricia and son Sean junior, and a golden circle of 10 clients hand-picked to invest in stock to prop up the share price.

A special dispensation was granted during preparations for the trial to allow for 15 jurors to be selected in order for three jurors to be on standby in case one of the other 12 is unable to continue.

FitzPatrick was declared bankrupt in 2012.

Anglo Irish Bank’s share price collapsed in 2008 and a secret stock market gamble by Mr Quinn unravelled. The one-time tycoon had quietly built up a 25% stake in the bank using contracts for difference – a trade deal to shield the true identity of the buyer. The deals allow investors to gamble in the hope a share price rises and reap huge gains. If the value goes south, however, the investor is liable for massive losses.

Anglo’s share price reached an all-time high of €17.53 in 2007, but later that year the credit crunch began to bite and rumours spread in financial circles that Anglo was in trouble.

The bank was ultimately nationalised in January 2009. The Irish government stepped in following commitments made the previous September under the bank guarantee scheme and the bailout cost €29bn.

Anglo was subsequently rebranded the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation and then liquidated last year.

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The prosecution is expected to outline its case against three former Anglo Irish Bank executives at their trial today.

Sean FitzPatrick, Willie McAteer and Pat Whelan are accused of participating in a scheme to provide unlawful financial assistance to 16 individuals to buy shares in the bank in July 2008.

The 15 jurors have been warned this trial may last four months.

More than 100 witnesses are to be called by the prosecution. Some are well-known, like former billionaire Sean Quinn.

It is the state’s case that Anglo’s former Chairman Sean FitzPatrick, the bank’s former chief financial officer Pat Whelan, and the bank’s former head of compliance Willie McAteer took part in a scheme to provide unlawful financial assistance to 16 individuals to buy shares in the bank.

The men deny the charges. Pat Whelan also denies seven further charges of being privy to fraudulent alterations of loan facility letters in October 2008.

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