Courts

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Taxpayer won't fork out for FitzPatrick's €1m legal bill

Dearbhail McDonald and Conor Gallagher

Published 24/06/2014|02:30

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Judge Nolan refused Mr FitzPatrick’s application for legal costs
Judge Nolan refused Mr FitzPatrick’s application for legal costs

TAXPAYERS will not have to foot the estimated €1m legal bill for former Anglo Irish Bank chairman Sean FitzPatrick.

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Circuit Court judge Martin Nolan has rejected an application by Mr FitzPatrick's legal team that he should not be liable for the cost of defending himself during his recent 48-day criminal trial.

Last March, Mr FitzPatrick, of Greystones, Co Wicklow, was acquitted, at the direction of Judge Nolan, of 16 counts of providing illegal loans to the Quinn family and the Maple 10 group of investors.

Insurers refused to cover the legal costs of Mr FitzPatrick, an undischarged bankrupt who did not seek legal aid.

Mr FitzPatrick's defence was privately funded after he was refused directors and officers' liability (D&O) cover.

D&O cover was also refused to William McAteer – Anglo Irish Bank's former head of risk – who was found guilty by a unanimous jury of providing illegal loans to the so-called Maple 10.

Pat Whelan, Anglo's former head of lending in Ireland, was also convicted of providing illegal loans to the Maple 10 group of borrowers.

Mr Whelan's defence costs were covered by a D&O insurance policy, but he could face civil action to recover the fees in light of his convictions.

None of the three men sought legal aid in advance of their trial, the biggest white-collar trial in the history of the State.

Yesterday, Judge Nolan refused Mr FitzPatrick's application for legal costs.

The State had challenged the costs application on the grounds that the prosecution was in "the public interest".

Objected

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) also objected to the application, saying that it was not clear how Mr FitzPatrick met his own legal costs and, therefore, he might not be entitled to them.

Judge Nolan said he could find no fault in how the DPP brought the case and that for this reason Mr FitzPatrick's application could not succeed.

Earlier this month, prosecutor Paul O'Higgins, for the DPP, questioned how the former chairman could have paid his lawyers during the trial when he was an undischarged bankrupt.

Mr O'Higgins said he assumed Mr FitzPatrick's lawyers were being paid throughout the proceedings but that it was not clear by whom.

He said that a requirement for the granting of costs is that the defendant actually had to bear those costs.

Counsel for the DPP said he wrote to the defence enquiring about the matter but received no reply.

Yesterday, Judge Nolan said it seemed that Mr FitzPatrick (66) is "responsible for his costs at this stage" despite not hearing any submissions from the defence on the matter in open court.

At the previous hearing, Mr FitzPatrick's counsel, Michael O'Higgins, said he was seeking all of the defence costs arising from the 48 trial and pre-trial hearings.

The defence team comprised two junior and one senior counsel as well as a solicitor. Mr O'Higgins described the legal bill as "enormous" but did not specify a figure.

Counsel asked where the justice would be "in letting Mr FitzPatrick leave the courtroom with his pockets bulging with a huge legal bill".

Mr O'Higgins said the case against Mr FitzPatrick was based solely on his answers in interview. He said he co-operated fully with investigators and answered all questions fully.

Mr O'Higgins said Mr FitzPatrick's legal team facilitated the prosecution in every way possible and "made all possible concessions", which shortened the length of the trial.

He said that the case against his client was "extremely thin" and based on two answers he gave during his garda interviews.

The sentence of Pat Whelan and William McAteer will be finalised next month.

Irish Independent

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