Wednesday 18 October 2017

Honohan feels heat over mortgage crisis and Anglo Tapes

Under-fire bank chief admits regulator still hasn't listened to secret phone recordings

Patrick Honohan
Patrick Honohan

UNDER-fire Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan has dramatically admitted that the regulator still hasn't listened to secret recordings from Anglo Irish Bank, despite having decided not to make criminal complaints.

The governor made the revelation during a heated grilling by TDs a day after announcing that he would not be making complaints either to the gardai or to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) over the tapes.

At an Oireachtas Finance Committee meeting, Prof Honohan was told: "You are the governor of the Central Bank. Listen to the tapes."

He faced a tense audience with politicians inside the committee room where he was quizzed about the mortgage crisis, followed by a heated grilling on the issue of Anglo Irish Bank.

Prof Honohan left the door open to going back and re-examining whether there might be a public interest in referring the tapes to the authorities.

But he admitted that the Central Bank had not gone through the hundreds of hours of tapes in full, comparing them to a "haystack".

"It's like a problem of a giant haystack. And we haven't solved the haystack," he said.

Fine Gael TD Kieran O'Donnell said the publication of the tapes had prompted "public outrage".

"Deal with the Anglo Tapes. Don't just give us observations," he said.

He asked why the governor could not have handed the tapes over to statutory bodies "without prejudice".

Prof Honohan said the standard of evidence required was high and that the bank hadn't discovered a "smoking gun" in the recordings.

"We are not an entity that investigates criminal matters. If criminal matters come to our attention, we pass them to the gardai," he said.

"This is a bit undirected to say why don't we try and get hundreds and hundreds of tapes and trawl through them."

But he admitted that the Central Bank had only listened to those tapes which had been revealed by the Irish Independent and the 'Sunday Independent'.

This newspaper made public about two hours' worth of tapes over the summer. The notorious recordings were made inside Anglo Irish Bank in the midst of the crisis at the bank.

But there is understood to be a significant number of other recordings which haven't made it into the public domain.

The tapes published by the Irish Independent and 'Sunday Independent' caused widespread shock both here and around the world.

The tapes revealed how Anglo's strategy was to lure the State in bit by bit, until taxpayers would have no choice but to fund a massive bank rescue.

The ensuing scandal prompted an immediate investigation by the Central Bank, which doubles as the financial regulator.

But this week the Central Bank said it had not found any new issues relating to suspected criminal offences, following its examination of the contents of the Anglo Tapes.

And yesterday before the Finance Committee, Mr Honohan suggested that despite the controversy, the regulator still may not listen to all of the tapes.

"We haven't arrived at a way of doing useful work in this area. If and when we do, we will do it," he said.

It is now three months since the Irish Independent first published the tapes.

At the time, Prof Honohan said the revelations in the tapes showed that Anglo executives "felt their situation was much worse than they were communicating to the (Central) Bank".

Prof Honohan yesterday said the behaviour in the tapes was "outrageous" and the mismanagement of the bank was "beyond belief".

He said he would go back to the Central Bank Commission to see if there was a "public interest" in providing more information to the gardai and the ODCE.

The governor said the bank owed it to the public not to pretend that there was sufficient new evidence of criminality.

'INCREDIBLE'

But he also said: "We looked at it, but we don't have anything new. We're not slow to go to the gardai with this or that. There isn't a smoking gun."

Mr O'Donnell said the Anglo efforts to suck the taxpayer in were like "being invited into the kitchen so you could be invited into the front room", to which Mr Honohan replied: "That's not enough for a court."

He also said the bank had provided transcripts of some tapes to the gardai in 2009, but these were not the ones published by the Irish Independent.

Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said it was "incredible" that all of the tapes hadn't been listened to.

"How can Governor Honohan say he doesn't believe there is further evidence in the Anglo Tapes one day and then admit the next day he hasn't listened to the rest of the tapes?" he asked, adding: "There is a huge public interest in getting to the truth about what happened in Anglo. For the Central Bank to say now that it sees no point in listening to more of these tapes is incredible."

But when pressed by Mr Doherty, Mr Honohan admitted that they only listened to the tapes that had been published by the Irish Independent.

"We have looked into this question and asked ourselves is there more that we should be doing on this?" he said.

Meanwhile, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said he shared the disgust with the public over the tapes, but claimed that a banking inquiry was the best way to investigate the recordings.

Speaking in New York, Mr Gilmore said the Anglo Tapes proved what people suspected, that there was a culture of deception by banking bosses at the time of the bailout.

By Colm Kelpie  and Fiach Kelly

Irish Independent

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