Lise Hand: Quinn can't disguise fury despite flashes of humour
Published 11/02/2014 | 02:30
'How times can change," said Sean Quinn ruefully, a brief smile flickering across his face.
There were some flashes of humour but also bursts of anger from the first witness of week two of the criminal trial of former Anglo executives, Sean FitzPatrick, Willie McAteer and Pat Whelan.
Cavan businessman Sean Quinn may have been alone in the witness-box in Court 19, but he had plenty of back-up in the room. Before being called to the stand, he sat with his daughter Brenda, son Sean Jnr and son-in-law Niall McPartland, and the courtroom was crowded with his supporters, who lined the walls and occupied every available seat.
Wearing a dark suit, blue shirt and yellow and gold striped tie, Sean Quinn was reminded just how different life has become since the years when he was the immensely wealthy head of an empire that had poured billions of euro into Anglo Irish Bank shares through Contracts for Difference (CFDs).
Counsel for Pat Whelan, Brendan Grehan, was listing off the accolades accorded to Sean. He had been the richest man in Ireland. And the 12th richest man in Ireland and Great Britain.
"I didn't know that. It wasn't an important criteria for me," shrugged Sean.
Moreover, continued Mr Grehan, he had once been in the Forbes top 200 rich list.
"How times change," the former billionaire observed.
Earlier under examination by counsel for the prosecution, Paul O'Higgins, Sean told the court how in 2005 and 2006 the Quinn Group was profitable and was making about half a million a year in profit.
And then in 2006, he had become interested in CFDs. He used them to increase his stake in Anglo – by September 2007 his stake was up to 24pc. "I thought it was a marvellous institution," he said. Sean also described how he believed it was "a blue-chip investment".
But by the following March, having spent hundreds of millions on margin calls, he was asked by Anglo executives to reduce his CFDs shareholding. The court heard of a series of angry meetings up to July 2008 involving Quinn and various Anglo executives, including David Drumm and Mr FitzPatrick.
Quinn explained his frustration at being forced to unwind his shareholding in the bank in July 2008 as the shares were sold at a record low in the market.
"We lost €3.2bn through the Anglo fiasco. I was a fool," he said.
"After throwing billions of pounds to support and then going and giving them away, it just didn't make any sense. I was furious and I'm still furious," he declared.
Sean admitted, "We didn't mean to get into CFDs as deep as we did," but "there were brokers left right and centre talking about Anglo being the best bank in the world".
Several times he berated himself. "I was involved in spending money stupidly, I left the administration to others," he declared.
However, he also admitted that the fault wasn't all Anglo's. "I was a fool," he lamented.
At one stage, Mr Grehan told the witness, "I'm not here to see you beat yourself up".
"I've got a right beating the last few years," Sean replied with the ghost of a smile.
A few times laughter rose from the public benches, eventually prompting a scolding from Judge Martin Nolan who declared that everyone should listen to the evidence, but not react to it.
Nevertheless, the former billionaire returned several times to his anger over the situation. His unhappiness with how things had unfolded with Anglo was very evident.
In one lengthy reply, he told the court that if he "had been aware something was wrong with Anglo", he would never have bought any shares.
Mr Grehan told Sean that he had let him give a long answer "to get that all off your chest". The counsel also reminded him that he couldn't use the witness-box for a case he was taking in the civil courts.
At the end of his cross-examination, Mr Grehan put it to the businessman, "Your account of events are coloured very much by your losses".
Sean bristled visibly. "Of course they are. If you lost €3.2bn of course it would colour your view," he retorted. "And moreover that they are coloured by the fact that you and your family are now in litigation with the remnants of the bank," continued Mr Grehan.
"Fine," said Mr Quinn with a shrug.
Next to the witness stand, the three accused men sat silently, closely following the exchanges.
At one juncture, Quinn recalled a meeting in September 2007 in Buswell's Hotel with Mr Drumm and Mr FitzPatrick, when the sale of some of his shareholding was discussed.
According to the businessman, the group was confident that they would "come to a gentleman's agreement and we'd all live happily ever after".
Then times changed.