Banking whistleblower tells committee he is relying on friends for food

A former high-flying bank executive who exposed alleged law-breaking in the industry a year before the crash is relying on friends for food, he has told a parliamentary watchdog.

Jonathan Sugarman said his life had been "utterly destroyed" because he did "the right thing" in trying to uphold the law in his role as a risk manager for Unicredit Ireland, the Irish arm of Italy’s biggest lender.

The Central Bank - the industry watchdog - did nothing when he warned regulators the bank was operating with billions of euro less than it was legally required to have in available cash, he said.

Despite walking into a Garda station in Rathmines, Dublin, eight years ago to report alleged offences under the Central Bank Act, he said he has never heard anything back after being told the complaint was passed to the fraud squad.

Mr Sugarman told the Oireachtas Finance Committee it was the "harsh fact of the matter that official Ireland has absolutely and completely destroyed the lives of every single whistle-blower" regardless of which organ of the state was exposed.

Asked why he did not take a case against the Central Bank, he responded: "I have no means."

He added: "Thanks to friends I can feed myself. When I needed to go to the dentist a few weeks ago, my friends got together and paid the dentist."

Fianna Fail’s John McGuinness, chairman of the committee, declared his shock at Mr Sugarman’s evidence and vowed to quiz the Central Bank and Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan about his plight.

"I find what you have told us absolutely shocking," Mr McGuinness said. "It is a story I have heard many times in relation to whistle-blowers. I respect you and applaud you for it - your story has been listened to today."

Mr Sugarman said that a year before the 2008 banking bailout, he went to the Central Bank and said his own employer was operating with a 20% liquidity breach.

This effectively meant the lender had 4 billion to €5bn less in available cash than was allowed under the regulations.

The Central Bank acknowledged the letter the next day but he never heard anything again.

"Naturally the bank was delighted - we got off scot-free. Why would we make issue of it? We are here to make money."

Mr Sugarman said the Irish banks had to be bailed out in 2008 - costing the taxpayer 64 billion euro - because everyone was breaching the regulations.

Every breach of the liquidity regulations was an offence, he said, punishable by up to five years in jail.

"How many risk managers are sitting in Mountjoy (prison)?" he said.

"The letter of the law clearly states that they face five years in prison.

"In Iceland they have 25 bankers in jail."

He resigned from Unicredit in September 2007 over "issues of integrity" when outside consultants told him the lender was operating at an even higher liquidity breach of 40%.

Bosses persistently blamed it on a technical glitch and auditors KPMG signed off on the bank’s accounts, he said.

Mr Sugarman has been unable to find work since - even elsewhere in Europe.

"What I find absolutely incredulous is that my life has been utterly destroyed simply because I did the right thing," he told the committee, which is investigating the banking sector.

"People who didn’t adhere to the regulations got off absolutely scot-free.

"I have been unable to work for over 10 years and I am totally unemployable as a result of upholding the law of the Republic of Ireland."

Mr Sugarman said the kindess of others was putting food on his table and keeping a roof over his head.

He says revelations this week that the Central Bank continues to find regulatory breaches among international banks in Dublin’s IFSC financial district show little has changed.

"How could this possibly be going on 10 years after Jonathan Sugarman came through the Central Bank front door and said, I’m telling you we are in breach, nine years after all the banks were found to be in breach?" he said.


- Press Association

Most Read in Ireland