Business Irish

Saturday 16 December 2017

Stretched necks and muffled whispers as banker entered court

Sarah Stack

Sarah Stack

NECKS stretched and muffled whispers filled courtroom number one as a smartly dressed ex-banker was brought up from a holding cell.

It definitely wasn't every day a poster boy for the Celtic Tiger boom years, a household name across Ireland, was called out among the hustle of a busy district court in Dublin.

After a three-and-a-half year probe, Sean FitzPatrick took his seat in a packed room - some of the more regular faces evidently annoyed by the attention the newly accused defendant had stirred.

The 64-year-old's tanned skin stood out against his wispy grey hair, just as much as his bright pink tie and gold buttons which shone on his navy blazer.

It was exactly two years since the former chairman of the toxic Anglo Irish Bank - who resigned in December 2008 amid a storm over directors' loans - was declared bankrupt.

His sister Joyce O'Connor, who put up the €10,000 surety to ensure her brother's bail, sat uncomfortably with family members in the court.

FitzPatrick looked just as uncomfortable, sitting defensively, almost defiantly, with his arms folded throughout the eight-minute hearing.

He had come home voluntarily from the USA when he heard investigators were looking for him, the court heard.

It had been less than six hours since FitzPatrick was arrested, by arrangement, as he got off a flight in Dublin Airport at about 5.30am.

Since then he had been held in a cell and charged at inner city's Bridewell Garda Station, boarded a large prison van loaded with other prisoners arrested overnight, and taken to another cell in the Criminal Courts of Justice.

His new surroundings were a stark contrast to the lifestyle the bankrupt banker still has at his luxury family home in Greystones, Co Wicklow.

One by one 20 names were called and 20 defendants appeared before Judge Cormac Dunne.

At 11.15am defendant 21, Sean FitzPatrick, was finally called-up over an alleged link to a multibillion-euro scam to save the ailing toxic bank.

A massive fraud and corporate mismanagement investigation by garda and the business watchdog Paul Appleby, the director of Corporate Enforcement, had landed him in court.

He listened intently throughout, sitting in the same spot as his two co-accused did yesterday.

Former finance director Willie McAteer and former managing director of lending, Pat Whelan, were both charged with the same 16 counts of advising and lending millions to a golden circle of investors to falsely inflate Anglo's share prices.

All three face a jury trial at the Circuit Criminal Court and are bailed until October 8, when the Book of Evidence will be served.

FitzPatrick joined the Anglo in 1980, appointed chief executive in 1986 and non-executive chairman in 2004.

Aside from his career in banking, the savvy sports fan took the high-profile position of chairman at packaging giant Smurfit Kappa, filling the post made vacant by Michael Smurfit.

One of FitzPatrick's last public outings was at Euro 2012 to watch Ireland be beaten by Spain in the company of former government press secretary and Fianna Fail stalwart PJ Mara.

It was a far cry from the courtroom where all eyes were now on him.

As his case was re-called for his bail conditions and bonds to be confirmed, FitzPatrick took the stand.

He put on a pair of thick black-rimmed glasses and carefully read the paperwork before he signed on the dotted line.

His sister, who wore a navy trouser suit with nautical strip and bold sparkling diamond jewellery, had to walk through the court up to the judge where she agreed a five figure payment if her brother ever absconded.

It was a sight neither probably ever expected or imagined being part of while FitzPatrick was at the helm of Ireland's most successful property bank, which was later blamed in part for Ireland's economic collapse.

He had earned more than €1m over his last three years at Anglo, where he held almost five million shares on the night of the Irish Government's bank guarantee in September 2008.

But he is not expected to repay €68m of his €85m borrowings after being declared bankrupt, with the bank he once ran joining a list of credits.

Elsewhere the bank expects to get about a tenth of the €8.5m euro borrowed to McAteer.

The bailout of the toxic lender has cost the Irish taxpayer an estimated €30bn.

Outside, as the former bank boss emerged through the sliding glass doors, the media scrum left a photographer bloodied when he was hit with a camera on the eyebrow.

Members of the public, who had gathered on the sidelines to watch the excitement, heckled FitzPatrick as he marched briskly from the exit to a waiting taxi escorted by gardai.

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