Gene Kerrigan: Before a judge? Wear a pinstripe suit
Lax justice for those guilty of white-collar crime is eroding authority of courts, says Gene Kerrigan
Published 22/07/2012 | 05:00
Sean Quinn isn't the only one who holds the courts in contempt. That's pretty much the way I feel about them, too. The courts, and the rest of the hesitant, ineffectual, overpriced justice system. The Sean Quinn scandal has put the courts to the test. The results are not impressive.
Sean Quinn is the rich fool who blew billions buying shares in Anglo Irish Bank, undermining the bank's stability just in time for the property bubble to pop. He now whines about how he got a raw deal.
Judge Elizabeth Dunne knows, on the evidence, that Quinn and his henchmen are "blatant, dishonest and deceitful". And they've been found in contempt of court. She knows that documents were "clearly fabricated or falsified". That evidence was "evasive, lacking in candour" not to mention "untruthful" and "simply untrue".
(By the way, would it be fair to expect the DPP to consider these matters, in reference to the law of perjury?)
Meanwhile, the Quinns were acting in breach of a court order.
Being a conscientious person, Judge Dunne didn't fly off the handle, as you or I might. She thought about things for an appropriate length of time, then she decided Sean Quinn deserves another chance. Sean Jr and nephew Peter got short prison sentences. (At time of writing, nephew Peter seems to have slept it out and missed his court date.)
The three Quinns have been engaged in persistent efforts to keep a large amount of their company assets out of the hands of Anglo, the bank to which Quinn owes billions. Since the citizens have been forced, against our will, to take responsibility for Anglo, that essentially means the Quinns are trying to ensure the bill for Sean Quinn's gambling lands on our desk, not his. At least €500m is currently involved.
These efforts were legal -- until the Quinns violated a court order. Which the court ruled they did.
One of the remarkable aspects of this case is the way in which the Quinns operate with open disregard of the courts. It's as though the courts are interfering in the personal activities of the Quinn family. So blatant has this become that a video has been leaked showing the two younger Quinns discussing the €500m.
Referring to the courts, Peter Quinn sniggers, "I'd have to lie," adding, "that wouldn't overly worry me."
This is from a man who is party to a case involving sworn evidence that Judge Dunne found to be "clearly fabricated or falsified" and "simply untrue".
The bankers said they didn't want Sean Quinn Sr jailed. They want him outside, retrieving the assets he's hidden. And Judge Dunne left him free, for now.
Now, Judge Dunne is acting in good faith, seeking to mitigate the damage done to the publicly owned bank. But this, I'm afraid, is where my respect for the courts takes a nosedive.
Did Mr Quinn breach a court order in the course of trying to acquire several hundred million euros in assets? That seems to be the finding of the court. I can see where the judge is intent on seeing that the State's interests are protected. But there's something else at stake here. The integrity of the courts. The credibility of the justice system.
And, in the matter of dealing with people in suits, that credibility was thrashed in November 2000. Back then, the courts confessed themselves unable to try Charlie Haughey, who clearly had a case to answer in connection with alleged crimes, for which strong evidence was abundant.
Evidence wasn't the problem. Too much publicity, it seems, made it wrong to try such a public figure. The UK could try Jeffrey Archer for perjury. Chicago could try Mayor Rod Blagojevich for corruption. Israel could try President Moshe Katsav for rape. Italy could try Silvo Berlusconi for a string of alleged crimes.
Our courts declared themselves not up to the job.
For years, the justice system has painstakingly picked through the debris of various white-collar scandals, with always one more aspect to explore at great length before deciding on whether there's a case to answer. In other countries, people are charged, tried and serve their sentence, and here we're -- well, lord only knows what our investigators are doing.
In one case, it took over a year before a suspect's house was searched -- during which time I'm sure he didn't destroy any potential evidence.
The official stance is that there will be no charges until every aspect of a suspect's affairs are thoroughly investigated. If this rule was applied to shoplifters and burglars the courts would close down for lack of business.
Now, it seems that a breach of a court order, in a matter involving hundreds of millions of euros, is not such a huge deal. Help the folks at Anglo get their hands on the assets you've hidden and, sure, we might take another look at your situation, Mr Quinn.
I know there's a balance between coercive and punitive measures. That's not the point. It's not either/or.
The courts have interests separate to the interests of the bank. All of us know that when a court order is deliberately breached -- whether in criminal, civil or family matters -- there are supposed to be consequences.
When the authority of the court is not vigorously defended, birds of prey see the court as an unthreatening scarecrow. They sit nonchalantly on it, as they prepare their next moves.
How many people who come before the courts are treated with such tolerance, if they blatantly disregard the authority of the court? Are the rest of us to take this as a signal as to how we should treat the law?
This country has been destroyed by the greed and recklessness of bankers and gamblers, feted and protected by their political cronies. There's been a somewhat successful effort to shift blame to the citizens -- we went mad, we all partied, the public sector isn't wearing enough sackcloth and ashes.
This is a private-sector crisis, caused by unregulated, overconfident, reckless, greedy gobshites. Of which Sean Quinn is one. The private sector has wriggled out of much of the costs of the crisis, pushing them onto the citizens. Their political cronies have been exceptionally helpful in this.
Personally, I don't give a toss about the Quinns and other such people. Jailing one or more won't fix the mess. But the record of the justice system over the past four years has been miserable. It's a fairly straightforward job, applying the law as vigorously to the man in the pinstripe as it does to the boy in the hoodie.
To some of us, the law says: "Thou shalt not." Defy that rule and go to jail. To others, it says: "Give it back and we might take it easy on you"
And we notice. All of us. Including the boy in the hoodie.