Sunday 25 February 2018

Jurors given crash-course reminder of the financial crisis

Stock picture: Getty
Stock picture: Getty
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

While most of us have tried to move on and forget about the economic crash, 10 men and five women are about to immerse themselves in the dramatic events of a decade ago.

In case they had forgotten, the jurors in the David Drumm trial for conspiracy to defraud and false accounting were given something of a crash course by prosecution counsel Paul O'Higgins SC yesterday.

Several financial institutions which were familiar names a decade ago, but which for many have faded into the recesses of memory, got a mention as Mr O'Higgins gave a potted history of the period that shook the global economy.

He admitted at the outset he was "in middling form" as his raspy sounding throat attested. But he made a good fist of things, nevertheless.

He reminded the jurors of Northern Rock, the first bank to experience "a run" back in 2007.

Bear Stearns, the New York investment bank which failed in March 2008, also got a mention, as did US mortgage financiers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both bailed out by the US treasury the same year.

These were huge jolts in the financial world which left institutions such as Anglo Irish Bank "worried about how they would get money in".

As the barrister ran though key international and domestic events, he threw in a number of terms jurors may not have been familiar with. But Mr O'Higgins was careful to clearly explain these as he went along.

European Central Bank negotiable securities were mentioned, a reference to a type of security Irish Life & Permanent (IL&P) would "liquidate" coming up to their end-of-year results.

The practice was legal, but the governor of the Central Bank was unenthusiastic about it, as it didn't look good, Mr O'Higgins said.

"Sticky deposits" were also mentioned, referring to deposits that customers were more likely to leave in a bank for a period of time.

These were the sort of deposits that all of the banks were anxious to attract during the liquidity crisis.

Mr O'Higgins also used the term "lightning speed" when referring to the massive circular transactions involving Anglo Irish Bank, IL&P and the Irish Life Assurance (ILA) that are at the heart of the Drumm case.

The transactions, which he said were used to make Anglo's balance sheet look €7.2bn better off than it was, were so quick that the cash never actually went into an ILA account along the way.

As introductions to complicated matters go, it was gentle enough. Mr Higgins said he could spend hours explaining things, but was not going to do so.

"There is a lot more I could tell you, but you have some months to hear that," he said, referring to the length of time the case is expected to last.

As Mr O'Higgins addressed the jury, Mr Drumm watched on intently from the far side of the courtroom. Wearing a dark suit jacket and blue open-necked shirt, he had a laptop open in front of him.

Mr O'Higgins told jurors that Mr Drumm was "the man who called the shots" at Anglo and the prosecution would argue that he had authorised the deals at the centre of the case.

He said the prosecution would be alleging the likely outcome of the €7.2bn transaction was to deceive depositors or prospective depositors and investors as to the strength of Anglo.

This, he said, would have left them to make foolish or ill-informed decisions because they were deprived of proper information.

Mr Drumm has admitted to authorising the circular transactions, but denies they were fraudulent or dishonest.

Irish Independent

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