Business World

Thursday 22 February 2018

Shane Ross: They played for time as countdown to catastrophe ticked away

Bankers knew fate of the nation was at stake, but still they conspired to delay our date with disaster, says Shane Ross

The long-delayed Oireachtas banking inquiry will hit even more problems following the Sunday Independent's shocking revelations in the latest tapes. Matt Moran, the Anglo chief financial officer granted immunity by the Director of Public Prosecutions, features in the latest transcripts. The tapes show him as a key figure in the Anglo hierarchy.

No inquiry would be credible without Mr Moran or other top Anglo executives, immunity or not. They are all central to the narrative. Indeed, the inquiry must call the DPP to explain the decision to grant immunity to Moran. Such immunities, while common in the US, are rare in Ireland. An inquiry without Moran would be incomplete; an inquiry with Moran is certain to be challenged in the courts. The inquiry is already looking like a busted flush. It should have been held in 2009.

In the latest tapes, Moran is heard discussing the flood of money leaving Ireland in late September 2008, just before the bank guarantee. Rich members of the elite, who helped to fuel the property boom, were shipping their money out of the country, fearing a bank bust. They were moving hundreds of millions into Germany and other safer havens just before the crisis erupted. No doubt they were being assisted in doing so by top bankers and stockbrokers. In this instance, despite their loud protests of financial patriotism, the financial top brass were looking after their rich clients. They were far from wearing the much flaunted "green jersey", the excuse later used for much irregular activity.

Yet they were happy to insist that they were wearing the same green jersey when rescuing fellow bankers. It was apparently in the interests of Ireland that Anglo and Irish Life & Permanent should save each other for the good of the country while the personal wealth of the big financial fish was simultaneously in flight overseas.

They knew of the danger. In one of the tapes, six months before the September 2008 guarantee, as Anglo's share price was tanking, David Drumm admitted that the fate of the nation was at stake due to the bankers' shenanigans. Discussing the crisis with Anglo's Head of Treasury John Bowe, Drumm broke out: "It is not about Quinn, this is about f**king Ireland, bad debts, property . . . We don't like the credit, the story, it's not in the space any more."

So they suspected the game was up for Anglo as early as March 2008, yet they ploughed on, unchecked, doing more and more damage.

Bowe even admitted in his talks with Matt Moran days before the guarantee that the near €1bn injection of funds from Anglo into Irish Life and Permanent was merely postponing Armageddon: "So it feels a bit better Matt, I suppose that's the best way of putting it, and in terms of our days, days to disaster, you can kind of stretch that, stretch that out, y'know?"

Moran laughs, and replies: "Yeah."

Bowe: "It doesn't look like it's imminent, it looks like its further out now, so I would say not a bad day."

They managed to "stretch" out Anglo's date with disaster for another few months. Anglo was nationalised in January 2009, a complete basket case. God knows how much extra damage was done to the nation by this delay caused by such delusional behaviour.

Bowe shows further signs of delusion in another of the tapes. Three weeks after the guarantee, he approaches Tony Lyon of Barclays Capital in London for funds to prop up Anglo. Using the bank guarantee as his security, he now dismisses the "calamity risk" of Anglo going under. All had been changed.

Of course, it hadn't. Anglo had been fatally wounded long before that.

Suddenly, in the middle of his telephone exchange with Lyon from Barclays, news breaks that Sean Quinn had resigned. Sensing the danger to Anglo itself in the bombshell, Bowe is reassuring, telling his potential lender that Sean Quinn "is a wealthy man". Four years later, Quinn was declared bankrupt. A few months afterwards, he was in jail.

Sean Quinn suffered a reality check. It seems the same message never landed at Anglo. Even in the darkest hours, Bowe was gung-ho: in another discussion, this time with a doubting Merrill Lynch banker, Bowe explains that if British Prime Minister Gordon Brown "didn't have the banks handing out credit during the Labour years, people wouldn't have spent money, the economy wouldn't have been as prosperous".

And then a peach from the Anglo man: "You know we are living in great times! He [Gordon Brown] just had to deal with the adjustment."

The Merrill Lynch man showed a little more insight.

"Our industry," he responded calmly with his feet on the ground, "has totally f**king let the world down." Anglo could have done with him.

Shane Ross is the independent TD for Dublin South

Sunday Independent

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