independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Anglo Tapes: Forget reality, it's not working – David Drumm

Drumm wanted Central Bank to help out with credibility boost

WORRIED Anglo Irish Bank chiefs wanted the Central Bank to express confidence in the bank's financial position, despite knowing the institution was in crisis.

A full 10 months before the bank guarantee, the troubled Anglo chiefs were desperate to defend their weakening financial position and stave off attacks from international investors.

The latest Anglo Tapes reveal that a conversation between Anglo chief executive David Drumm and head of treasury John Bowe in November 2007 included discussion on how the then Central Bank governor, John Hurley, might be persuaded to help them out.

At the time, "the hedgies" – the ruthless London-based investment funds – were betting heavily on Anglo Irish Bank's shares dropping in value.

Mr Drumm and Mr Bowe discuss whether it would be possible to get Mr Hurley to make a public statement of confidence in the Irish banks.

At one point, Mr Drumm snaps: "No, no, forget about reality because it's not working. Is there anything they (Central Bank) could say?"

But it is also clear the bank chiefs knew that Ireland's credibility on the international market was already damaged and that any statements could backfire.

The Anglo bosses discussed asking Mr Hurley to deny any Irish bank had to turn to the European Central Bank because they couldn't borrow money using normal channels.

However, they also admitted that such a move could in itself set alarm bells ringing on the markets about Anglo.

They feared the reaction from the markets to a statement of confidence coming from Ireland would be: "Those f***in' Irish, you wouldn't want to believe a word they're saying."

In the run-up to the banking crisis, the pattern of Anglo's contempt for the regulators in this country again comes through.

Mr Bowe suggested a statement from the governor could either be helpful or be interpreted negatively by the markets "because people might wonder why he is doing it".

Mr Drumm considered a different approach from the governor.

"Can he come out and say that Irish banks are not under pressure and have not approached for ECB funding and blah, blah, blah, blah and the regulator's concerned, eh, about the negative impact on (the) Irish banking system of sentiment? Blah, blah, blah."

Later, the CEO agreed with Mr Bowe that the markets were likely to ask which Irish bank the Central Bank was "covering for" and the finger would be pointed at Anglo, which, at that stage, had been marked out as one of the riskiest bets in the financial world.

Mr Drumm breaks out in cackles of laughter when Mr Bowe reflects: "But they'll say: 'Now why did the regulator, did one of the banks ring up the regulator and ask him to say it?' You know what I mean? Look, you know what I mean, 'those f***in' Irish, you wouldn't want to believe a word they're saying'."

The conversation also reveals the Anglo chiefs wanted Sean Quinn, then Ireland's richest man, to create the impression he was buying more shares in the bank – even after telling the Financial Regulator that the one-time billionaire's shareholding was dangerously large.

In late 2007, Anglo bosses told the businessman – who had secretly become the bank's largest shareholder – he was "part of the problem".

They wanted him to help keep up the bank's stock market price by creating the impression he was still ready to buy more of the doomed bank's shares.

The relationship between Mr Quinn and Anglo has become one of the most controversial episodes to emerge from the banking collapse.

It has spawned a massive legal battle between the two sides that is set to run for years.

One of the most hotly contested issues between the two sides is whether or not Anglo chiefs encouraged the former billionaire's massive, and doomed, gamble on their bank's shares in the run up to the banking crisis of 2008.

The latest Anglo Tapes do reveal how Mr Quinn was told by Mr Drumm that he needed to get a message out of confidence in the bank by saying he was "a buyer not a seller" of the bank's shares.

Anglo bosses were desperate to prevent the collapse in the price of their bank's shares that would have happened if Mr Quinn had started publicly ditching his massive holdings of the stock, the tapes show.

DANGER

Mr Quinn was also warned his reputation as one of Ireland's most successful business leaders was in danger.

The conversation happened just months after bank bosses had discovered the scale of Mr Quinn's dangerously large stake in the bank.

At the time, the then billionaire was the bank's biggest shareholder. But he built up the shareholding secretly through so-called contracts for difference, known as CFDs.

The bank needed Mr Quinn to sell the shares in order to reduce his exposure, as it knew he didn't have the money to cover the losses already built up.

However, Mr Drumm did not want the market to know the shares had to be sold by Mr Quinn.

"That's the problem at the moment. By the way I got eh, Quinn, Sean Quinn and I told him that he was part of the problem so, eh, I told him he needs to do something, he needs to, not directly, but he needs to get it out there that he's a buyer not a seller.

"That he's very robust, that you know, he hasn't had margin calls or some way, or without saying that, that they conclude that, you know, he's not the problem," he said.

Mr Quinn was warned by Mr Drumm about the consequences for his wider business empire.

"The hedgies are, well, the hedgies are using everything at their disposal as you would expect them to but they're using him. I told him and I said they're dragging him. . . I was trying to get into his head: 'They're dragging your reputation down because they're saying you're, you've got credit problems, you're defaulting on your loans, blah, blah, blah'," he said.

By Paul Williams Special Correspondent

Irish Independent

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