independent

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Lise Hand: Packed courtroom told of Bond-esque rescue plans

IN a couple of long strides, the tall figure of Matt Moran settled into his seat for what's expected to be a sojourn of several days on the witness stand.

For Mr Moran occupied an elevated position in the Anglo Irish Bank management food-chain: he was chief financial officer of the bank which he joined in September 2002, and one of his duties was to "market the story of the bank".

But before his evidence in what was Day 10 of the criminal trial of former Anglo executives Sean FitzPatrick, William McAteer and Patrick Whelan, prosecuting counsel Paul O'Higgins told the jury Mr Moran has been granted immunity after discussions between his lawyers and the prosecution.

A larger-than-usual crowd had gathered in Court 19 as Mr O'Higgins meticulously brought the former Anglo executive through the fraught first half of 2008 when the bank was trying to formulate a plan to unwind the substantial 29.3pc contracts for difference (CFD) shareholding of Sean Quinn in Anglo.

Mr Moran described various stratagems floated to deal with the situation, each given James Bond-esque names such as Project Sleeve, Project Graphite and The Dribble Mechanism. But each fell down for a variety of reasons.

Mr O'Higgins also asked Mr Moran if he had held shares in Anglo, and the former chief financial officer explained that he had a portfolio of shares in several institutions, including other Irish banks besides Anglo. But he hadn't held on to them.

"In the summer of 2007 I sold most my positions in the other banks," he explained. And he had wanted to sell his Anglo shares, but "was requested by David Drumm not to do so". He added that his last acquisition of Anglo shares was at the urging of the bank's CEO – he had been "strongly encouraged by David Drumm". This, he explained, meant that he was able to say that he had purchased shares recently and was "a sign of confidence in the bank".

Then Mr O'Higgins asked him about the beginning of July 2008 when the share-buying deal involving the consortium of property developers known as the Maple 10 was being put together by the bank. And part of the process of setting the transaction in motion was getting the green light from the Financial Regulator. Mr Moran told the court how Mr Drumm had come into his office on July 9, looking for Mr McAteer.

"David Drumm said he had spoken to the regulator (about the proposed transaction) and he had got their approval, and he gestured to me with a thumbs-up," said Mr Moran.

The regulator was also the subject of evidence given earlier in the day by Declan Quilligan who was Anglo's head of UK business.

On the same day, July 9, he received an email from Mr Drumm which simply stated in the subject bar: "Regulator squared".

In his reply, the UK head wrote: "Excellent! Hope he's grateful!" to which David Drumm responded by return email: "Excited, I would say – I'd say he's lying awake at night like the rest of us."

When he was asked about the options facing the bank with regards to dealing with Sean Quinn's CFD shareholding, Mr Quilligan said "to do nothing was never an option", adding that an unwinding "in an uncontrolled way" of the businessman's shares "would have been catastrophic".

When asked by Lorcan Staines, counsel for Mr Whelan, if with hindsight there was anything he would do differently when putting the deal together, the former Anglo executive replied: "I wish we had got it all in writing."

He felt that the deal was for the good of Anglo and also the Irish banking system.

Irish Independent

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