DUBLIN (Reuters) - Former Anglo Irish Bank head Sean FitzPatrick was charged on Tuesday over his part in Ireland’s most expensive bank failure, making him the highest profile banker to face prison in connection with his country’s financial meltdown.
FitzPatrick, the face of Ireland’s banking crisis after serving as Anglo chief executive during its rapid rise and chairman during its stunning fall, was arrested in Dublin airport and brought before court to face 16 charges.
Like two other former top executives at the bank who were charged on Monday, FitzPatrick, 64, was charged chiefly over his role in loans allegedly given to a group of 10 wealthy clients to buy shares in the bank and prop up its share price.
FitzPatrick, wearing his trademark navy suit and pink tie, sat with his arms folded and did not respond when each of the charges was read out. He was released on bail of 11,000 euros (8,549 pounds) and told to appear again on October 8 when evidence will be heard.
The former multi-millionaire banker, who was declared bankrupt two years ago, could face up to five years in prison if found guilty of any of the charges and must report weekly to police before his trial.
Ireland’s Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) and the police have been investigating Anglo’s practices for over three years, including loans given to a group of investors, referred to by local media as the “golden circle”, as well as whether deposits were used to mask large withdrawals.
The long-running investigation left Irish voters angry that nobody has been jailed for the mismanagement of banks that helped fuel the runaway “Celtic Tiger” economy.
At a separate hearing, a judge refused to grant the ODCE a three-year extension to its investigation, instead giving investigators another six months before it would review their progress again, saying he feared progress might not be as expeditious if he handed them the three years sought.
A byword for the casino-style lending practices that obliterated the local banking sector and pushed Ireland into an 85 billion euro ($103 billion) EU-IMF bailout, Anglo’s collapse is expected to cost the Irish state close to 30 billion euros.
FitzPatrick built Anglo up from a small, niche lender in the 1980s to one of the fastest growing banks in the world 20 years later by shunning a traditional retail banking model in favour of lending aggressively to property developers.
However, when Ireland’s property bubble burst spectacularly, Anglo’s years of reckless lending led to the bank’s nationalisation in January 2009. After successive bailouts, Dublin decided to start slowly winding down Anglo a year later.
FitzPatrick resigned in late 2008 after admitting he had kept shareholders in the dark for years about loans worth 84 million euros he had received from Anglo. Issues to do with loans to directors also form part of the overall investigation.
A police sergeant told the court on Tuesday that FitzPatrick was charged with permitting the bank to give unlawful financial assistance for the purpose of or in connection with the purchase of shares in Anglo.
Ex-Finance Director Willie McAteer and managing director for Ireland Pat Whelan were read the same charges on Monday.
Among those the three are accused of helping are Paddy McKillen, Gerry Gannon and Joe O’Reilly - property tycoons who achieved celebrity status during Ireland’s construction boom.
The wife and children of Ireland’s former richest man, Sean Quinn, including his son who was jailed last week in a separate case to do with the bank, were also among the list of 16 people the bank was accused of assisting.
Quinn, bankrupt and also facing the threat of prison over his failure to cooperate with the former Anglo’s attempts to seize foreign assets he put out of its reach, lost his 4 billion euro business empire over a disastrous investment in the bank.
He built up a holding of more than 20 percent in it via contracts for difference (CFDs) - which do not have to be publicly declared - and offloaded a stake of 10 percent to the group of 10 Anglo clients, without placing them in the market.
Anglo stock became worthless once the government took over the bank, leaving Quinn with debts of almost 3 billion euros.
Writing by Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries; Editing by Mark Heinrich