Sunday 18 March 2018

Irish Nationwide's 60,000 emails are combed over by investigators

MICHAEL FINGLETON: Has an aversion to using computers
MICHAEL FINGLETON: Has an aversion to using computers

Tom Lyons

Investigators hired by the Central Bank are sifting through 60,000 emails from inside the toxic building Irish Nationwide as the State builds a case against some of its former senior executives and board. The Central Bank has confirmed to the Sunday Independent that it will release these emails if asked to any banking inquiry into Ireland's economic collapse.

Forensic accountants from Ernst & Young, rebranded EY last week, are combing the emails for the Central Bank as it seeks to prove the society, whose collapse cost the taxpayer €5.4bn, was systemically mismanaged for decades and repeatedly breached various banking rules.

Wrongdoing, if proved, could lead to fines of up to €500,000 each for its chief executive Michael Fingleton and other executives, and the society's board – which was chaired by Michael Walsh, a former professor of banking. Other possible sanctions include disqualification for a number of years from the management of a regulated financial services provider. All individuals questioned or in correspondence with the Central Bank are understood to have denied any wrongdoing.

The Central Bank's digital trawl is looking for information about 40-sample loans to big developers which the State's banking watchdog has identified.

It has already examined the paperwork in relation to these loans, which was in many cases lacking, so the emails may be able to supply it with more information.

Linking the emails and loans to Fingleton himself is made more difficult by his aversion to using computers.

The multimillionaire banker preferred emails to be sent to his personal assistant, making it hard to prove that he actually read them. Sometimes he gave a response, but at other times his response was given by unrecorded telephone calls.

The Central Bank declined to respond to specific questions on Irish Nationwide.

In a statement it said: "As discussed in relation to the investigation of historical lending practices at INBS (Irish Nationwide), the investigation is at an advanced stage and, once concluded, decision regarding any possible future enforcement proceedings will be made. I cannot comment any further on this."

The Central Bank confirmed, however, that it would be prepared to hand over the emails and any other relevant information to a banking inquiry if it ever goes ahead.

"In relation to a possible future banking inquiry, the Central Bank would co-operate fully with any inquiry in line with legislative requirements," the Central Bank said.

The best-selling Fingers, by Tom Lyons and Richard Curran, which was published by Gill & McMillan, details the breakdown of controls and any semblance of conservative banking inside Irish Nationwide.

In the Anglo Tapes it has separately emerged that even senior executives in Anglo Irish Bank viewed the society as being in a league of its own when it came to corporate governance failure and vulnerability to collapse.

An unnamed English fund manager is recorded asking John Bowe, Anglo's head of treasury: "Do you think the Irish Nationwide management, from what you've read about them and things, get it, because we've met them and, to be honest, things are terrifying."

"Well when you said management I was a little bit lost there, I wasn't sure who you were talking about," Bowe replied. "I mean they have a very strong personality in their CEO and it's difficult to see what the management team is beyond that, so if you're asking me does Mr Fingleton get it? I don't know, I really don't know. You know the guy is in his 70s.

"He's a very wealthy man," Bowe continued, "and he's got an inordinate amount of money paid into his pension scheme – he's looking to cash out, that would be my view. I'm not expressing an Anglo view, it's just a personal view."

Irish Independent

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