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Friday 29 August 2014

Lise Hand: Two accounts of Maple meetings but both deals sealed instantly

Published 14/02/2014 | 02:30

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Witness Gerard Maguire at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. Picture: Collins
Gerard Maguire. Picture: Collins

IN JULY 2008, property developer Gerard Maguire was on holiday in the south of France when he got a call from his office. One of Anglo's executives Patrick Whelan was looking to speak to him.

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Mr Maguire, who had been a customer with Anglo since 1994, phoned him back – he had known the banker for 20 years.

"I would have time for Pat," the businessman told the court.

It was Day Seven of the trial of three former Anglo executives, Sean FitzPatrick, William McAteer and Patrick Whelan; the day began and ended with evidence given by two former employees of the bank, and in between the court heard from two members of the 'Maple 10' – the consortium of property developers assembled by the bank to buy Anglo shares.

The first of the two men to give evidence was Gerard Maguire. He was articulate and assured, giving detailed accounts of his involvement with the so-called Maple 10 transaction, which began with the phonecall from Nice. Mr Maguire offered to return to Dublin for a meeting at Anglo but instead, two days after the initial call, Pat Whelan and the bank's CEO David Drumm flew out to France to talk to him.

Pat Whelan had told him that the bank shares "were under pressure" and that "there was an attack on the share price" from hedge funds.

Anglo had looked for help from outside institutions but had no success "given the times that were in it". And so they were "looking for individuals to inspire confidence in the bank and fight off the attack".

And at the subsequent meeting in Nice, the two Anglo directors elaborated on the situation, according to Mr Maguire. He was told that hedge funds were driving down Anglo's share price which was "not just affecting Anglo, but other banks".

He was asked would he invest in shares. The bank would provide a loan facility to help him of up to €60m. "I believed others were investing as well," said Mr Maguire, who was told the investment would "stop the run".. And when stability was achieved, he would be allowed to sell his shareholding "in an orderly fashion".

Mr Maguire had two questions – was the transaction legal, and was the Central Bank aware of the deal?

He received assurances on both counts. He signed up to the proposal and shortly after, Anglo loaned him about €45m to buy 10.2 million shares at a price of €4.40.

But by the end of the year as Anglo's share price hit rock-bottom although about €15m of the shares had been sold, he was left with €30m of shares from the Maple 10 deal, and 450,000 shares bought with his personal funds.

As he finished his cross-examination of Mr Maguire, Pat Whelan's counsel Brendan Grehan observed, "The world changed, and you were left on the hook".

"Yes," said the property developer quietly.

The second member of the Maple 10 also told the court of a multi-million deal sealed in a matter of minutes. Gerry Gannon took the stand next. He was minus the headwear which gave him the soubriquet of 'the man in the hat'.

Brendan Grehan asked him to confirm that in 2008 he had been one of the biggest property developers in the country with a net worth "approaching one billion".

"Probably, yes," replied Mr Gannon.

However, his evidence about how his deal was struck was markedly different to that given by Gerard Maguire.

He was uncertain about the date when he received a phonecall from Patrick Whelan – "sometime early to mid-July" he said. Mr Gannon told the court that the Anglo director informed him "an opportunity had come up" and would he meet with himself and David Drumm?

Mr Gannon agreed, and a meeting was held a few days later in Anglo's offices on Stephen's Green. There was "five or six minutes of chit-chat", before the men got down to business. The developer was told that as a "good customer of the bank" that "an opportunity had come up to buy some shares", and that they would supply the necessary funding.

"I said I would," Mr Gannon explained, adding that the meeting lasted "about 20 minutes".

Mr Grehan asked the developer if the Anglo directors had explained the situation which had arisen in the bank.

"No," replied Gerry Gannon who said he didn't take any time to consider the offer. "I agreed to it there and then."

And subsequently he bought 10 million shares, but he wasn't sure at what price. He was asked did he sell on the shares.

"No," he said, adding he wouldn't describe himself as "hands-on" in such dealings. "I would've given it to my financial people."

Gerry Gannon had a final word before he left the witness stand: "I always found all the people who worked in Anglo to be honest and truthful."

Irish Independent

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